Heightened awareness of concussions and athlete safety nationwide has the Minnesota State High School League reviewing the frequency and length of summer football contact practices.
 
At Thursday’s league board meeting in Brooklyn Center, associate director Kevin Merkle laid out summer football contact practice guidelines for the board to consider implementing in 2014. Currently, coaches are free to hold as many contact practices as they wish in June and July.
 
Merkle said potential guidelines include practicing for at least three days in helmets plus two additional days in full pads before allowing contact. Fall practices currently use this model. One difference would be requiring coaches to reacclimate players to contact at summer practices if more than three consecutive days pass without contact.
 
Contact practices are any in which there is physical contact between players in helmets and pads, regardless of whether they tackle to the ground. The Summer Coaching Waiver period takes place in June in July, with the exception of a no-contact period the week of July 4.
 
Another guideline would limit coaches to holding no more than seven contact practices during the summer. The use of blocking or tackling sleds or dummies would not count as contact practices.
 
Merkle is also proposing a maximum practice length of three hours, with no more than two hours spent on the field.
 
 
“I don’t know of many coaches out there who would be abusing this right now,” Merkle said. “I think most football coaches here know there is nothing good about beating the kids up in the summer. But we also cannot assume everyone does it the right way because that is not always the case.”
 
Merkle said if the guidelines were approved, Minnesota’s summer practice model would remain among the nation’s most liberal.
 
“Some states don’t allow equipment,” Merkle said. “Some only also helmets and shoulder pads."
 
While coaches Brad Anderson of Wayzata and Dave Nelson of Minnetonka differ on their summer practice philosophies, both agreed player safety is paramount.
 
Anderson said his Trojans have never worn helmets or shoulder pads in the summer. Teaching footwork and agility, he said, does not require equipment.
 
“You want to be careful about extending the season,” Anderson said. “When you put on equipment, that changes things. It becomes more competitive.”
 
Nelson concurred with Merkle’s belief that most coaches effectively self-regulate their contact practices. The Skippers, Nelson said, practice 14 times during the summer and wear full pads six times. The other eight practices are in helmets and shoulder pads. Nelson said throwing and catching in pads better prepares players for game conditions.
 
“We’ve cut back over time,” Nelson said. “This summer we will have two fewer practices than last year. And we go about an hour to 90 minutes.”
 
The MSHSL Board also made formal Thursday:
 
The 2014 boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments will change order, with the boys’ going first. Scheduling conflicts at Target Center begin next year when the National Collegiate Hockey Conference starts using the arena for its postseason tournament. The NCHC has a five-year contract with the Target Center.
 
New classifications and section assignments in all sports for the next two seasons. The two highest profile moves are Totino-Grace opting up two classes to compete in Class 6A football and St. Thomas Academy, winners of the past three consecutive Class 1A boys’ hockey state champions, opting up to Class 2A.