Heat concerns prompt new prep football rules

In this 2011 file photo, Dacula High School football players take a water break during practice.

In this 2011 file photo, Dacula High School football players take a water break during practice.


Talkin' Sports: GHSA Rule Changes

Todd Cline and Will Hammock talk about the changes the GHSA is making. They discuss heat concerns as well as soccer and basketball playoff venue changes.

Todd Cline and Will Hammock talk about the changes the GHSA is making. They discuss heat concerns as well as soccer and basketball playoff venue changes.

A University of Georgia study into heat-related issues and high school football, instigated by the Georgia High School Association, led to major changes enacted Monday by the state's governing body for high school athletics.

Football programs will have their practice time scaled back beginning this summer to help protect high-schoolers from the brutal heat, which typically takes its toll on the teenagers' bodies, after a ruling by the GHSA's Executive Committee.

The study found that most problems occur after more than two hours of practice and during the first eight days of preseason workouts.

"Whether you like (the new rules) or you don't like them, they're driven by hard data," said Touchdown Club of Gwinnett president Dave Hunter, a longtime football coach and current GHSA Executive Committee member. "When you see the data, I just don't know how you, as a coach, wouldn't want to adhere to the policy."

Researchers found that heat-related deaths among football players across the country tripled to nearly three per year between 1994 and 2009 after averaging about one per year the previous 15 years. The University of Georgia reports that overall, Georgia led the nation in deaths with seven fatalities. Two Georgia players died in August.

"Our previous research shows heat illness rates are highest in the Southeast," said Michael Ferrara, professor of kinesiology and associate dean for research in UGA's College of Education, who co-directed the study with Bud Cooper, associate department head for the department of kinesiology.

Researcher Andrew Grundstein says he was surprised that more than half the deaths occurred during morning practices, when temperatures are generally cooler. But he said the research found that it's often very humid in the morning, which increases heat stress on players.

UGA researchers found that high school student-athletes need about 10-14 days to acclimate their bodies to the heat stress in preseason practices in late July and August. They say that gradually adjusting to these conditions can help minimize the risk of injury to student-athletes.

Hunter confirmed the following changes for the 2012 preseason:

--The first five days of preseason practice must be no longer than two hours. Those sessions also must be in helmets, T-shirts and shorts only, with no pads allowed.

--Three-a-day preseason practices are banned.

--Two-a-day preseason practices cannot be held on consecutive days and the practice time in a single day cannot surpass five hours. Another change Hunter said is important is that there must be a break of at least three hours between two-a-day sessions.

-- Practices in pads may begin Aug. 1.

--A wet bulb gauge is now mandatory on the practice field and a chart will be provided to determine when it's safe to practice.

--An ice tub also must be on the field in case it's needed for an overheated player.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dividing Class A

The GHSA also spent much of Monday's meetings determining how to handle Class A, with its pending split into public and private state championships for the 2012-13 school year.

It was determined that the following Class A sports will have separate state champions for public and private teams - football, basketball, baseball, softball, cross country, golf, tennis, one-act play and literary.

Public and private schools will compete for state titles together in volleyball, wrestling, swimming and diving, soccer, lacrosse, riflery and gymnastics because of the lack of Class A schools participating in those sports.

Basketball changes

With the Arena at Gwinnett Center unavailable for the next two Final Fours, changes were inevitable for the state basketball playoffs. Some of those became clearer on Monday, though no new venue has been selected to replace Gwinnett.

State quarterfinal basketball games will now be hosted by the higher-seeded teams, rather than at neutral sites. Each class will then host semifinal matchups at the same site.

For the finals, all classifications will be held at one location with four title games on Thursday, four on Friday and six on Saturday.

Football finals back in the Dome

The Georgia Dome will continue to host the state high school football championship games in 2012-13. Three of the title games will be on Friday and four will be on Saturday.

Another football change was made Monday as ticket prices for playoff games will go up to the following: $10 for first- and second-round games, $12 for the quarterfinals, $15 for the semifinals and $20 for the finals (pre-sale tickets to the title games will be $18 at the participating schools).

Soccer title games get upgrade

The soccer state championship games will be more of a showcase event in the spring of 2013.

Rather than being played at the higher-seeded school, next year's soccer title games will be held at a pair of neutral sites - the new facility at Kennesaw State and at Silverbacks Park on the Gwinnett border. The title games will be split between those two sites based on which site is closer to the participating teams.