Oregon Ahead Of Reduced-Contact Curve
By John Baker
Sometime in late July, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott will step before a crowd of reporters and assembled microphones and talk about new "health initiatives" the league will put in place.
At the heart of the issue is number of full contact days the league will allow programs during the season. The NCAA's minimum standard allows for full contact during all five practices of a game week, but the Pac-12 is going to go beyond that — possibly to the level Oregon utilized for much of Chip Kelly's tenure as head coach. Kelly often limited contact to twice a week, and whether to uphold that unique approach will be yet another in a myriad of questions new coach Mark Helfrich will have to answer.
Pac-12 coaches talked about the issue during a meeting this May and school presidents, athletic directors and administrators have also taken up the discussion.
Kelly allowed more hitting during his first year as Oregon's coach, but suffered several key injuries, prompting a change in philosophy, one that seemed to work well with his focus on speed and playing pace. While Oregon figures to be well within the new guidelines, Scott stopped short of spelling out just what those guidelines will be, though it's likely a limit of two to three contact days would be about right.
During Kelly's stint, Oregon would have full-contact work Tuesday and Wednesday.
Fortunately for Helfrich, rather than answer the whole question, he'll simply need to adapt to the parameters the Pac-12 will spell out in July, though it's likely he will keep Kelly's practice schedule intact.
In conjunction with the new full-contact mandates coming in July, Scott announced the formation of the "Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative" which will serve as the central conduit for research being done on the conference's individual campuses about athletic injuries such as head trauma. The Pac-12 is contributing more than $3 million for research grants to help the project.
While many conferences continue to shy away from the issue of practice fatigue and injury, there appears to be enough data out there, including the success Oregon has had with limited contact, to prompt the Pac-12 to act and act swiftly. Fortunately, the new guidelines will likely have no affect on Oregon or its practice pattern. That will be in the hands of Helfrich.