New safety rule changes to further protect football players

CC/Flickr photo by situnek34

CC/Flickr photo by situnek34

As college and pro football kicks off this week, be on the lookout for major changes to the game’s safety rules. Namely, the changes are centered around the targeting rule and the strike zone in an attempt to increase safety of the young men out on the field.

Today, I had the chance to visit WAKR host Ray Horner in studio and speak to him about the specifics of these safety rule changes and what they could mean to the future of the game.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.


HORNER: Joining us live in the studio right now is Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Joe, what do you have for us today?

DR. CONGENI: Well, Ray, you know we talked on the Thursday night kickoff show a little bit about some of the rules affecting high schoolers. With the college football kicking off Saturday, the pros tomorrow night, there are some changes.

There are some differences between high school, and the pro and college game, but I guess the big one everybody’s talking about — the biggest safety rules change — is the rule about targeting, the rule about the strike zone — new words in our vernacular of understanding football.

Those are gonna be some of the things you’re going to be looking for to see if we can make the game safer.

HORNER: What do you think is the biggest step here in improvement, Joe?

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

DR. CONGENI: Well, I’m excited to see if this rule can help. You know how it is, and when I got a chance to speak with you guys Thursday, this sport is great. I mean, there are a lot of good things that young men can learn from this sport, but we’ve got to get it to be safer.

There’s no question what’s happened in the last few years, and so I’m excited that maybe this step is gonna be helpful.

Now, in the high school, they’re gonna take a step back at the OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association). I spoke with the people down there and [they first want to] see what happens in the college and pro [games]. [The changes are in] the targeting rule, the crown of the helmet rule, the strike zone.

So, the strike zone basically is going to be above the knees and the shoulders and down. That’s gonna be the area we’d like to see people tackling. So instead of the hits that are high or knee and below, we’re looking at people blocking or tackling in that strike zone, so to speak. I think that makes some pretty good sense.

For whatever reason in the last 20 years, instead of making good-form tackles — driving through the shoulder and wrapping and tackling — people have been leading with the crown of their helmet to target somebody. I think the rule says, “A player that takes aim at an opponent for the purpose of attacking with an apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle.” That’s what they are calling targeting.

If somebody is targeting, if somebody is outside the strike zone with a hit, if somebody hits a defenseless player now, it’s going to be flagged. There’s also the opportunity to remove somebody from the game for those illegal hits.

HORNER: What about the equipment here? What about the helmet, Joe?

DR. CONGENI: Not a lot of big changes in the helmet. There are a couple of new helmets out this year, but again, remember, I don’t think that’s overall the answer because it’s more of the whiplash, snapback mechanism of hits that causes problems with the brain. So, I’m more worried about that.

The straight-forward hits — what they call the linear hits, helmet-to-helmet hits — we haven’t seen it to be as big a problem as the whiplash or rotational mechanism hits. So, not a lot new that you’re gonna see out there on the helmets this year.

HORNER: How much additional training, awareness will there be as far as coaches, training staff and such in regards to this?

DR. CONGENI: Well, luckily you know, a lot of that takes place in the summer. One of the things that the high school, the OHSAA, really emphasized this year — although I think Ohio is very good at this. I get a chance to meet with docs from all over the country. I think our coaches do a great job teaching technique — that there be one person on every high-school coaching staff who emphasizes appropriate blocking and tackling. [Proper technique] is really something that’s good for the off-season for camp, as well as continuing to emphasize during the season.

Technique is a big part of this, Ray, and I really do believe if we make changes in the next five years in technique that we can make the game safer. And, we have to do everything we can to make the game of football safer.

HORNER: Joe, let me ask you this, have we seen a drop-off in attendance of high school, pee-wee football and such?

DR. CONGENI: There has been a drop-off in the last couple of years. There’s been a drop at all levels: in youth, in junior high and in college. I saw some of the OHSAA [stats]. There’s some up and some down, but overall there is somewhat of a drop.

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni with us, Sports Medicine Center, Akron Children’s Hospital. … Closing on this Joe, what did you want to present to the audience?

DR. CONGENI: I want people to understand. There are a lot of people that complain about any changes in the game. These are well-thought-out; there’s a lot of people meeting and getting together, the Athletic Trainers’ Association and team physicians and things trying to do everything that we can to make the game safer.

So, I think people have to understand that there’s got to be changes made; understand that you have to be able to see things like kick-off rules and things like that are going to change with the game. And, rather than there be complaints about it, understand that it’s all being done for the safety of the young men playing the game.

HORNER: Alright, Joe. Thanks for stopping by. We appreciate it.

DR. CONGENI: Okay, Ray.

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, joining us.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.


  1. Gentlemen, thank you for your concern to make football a safer and better game.

    Dr. Congeni mentioned the major concern for whiplash impacts, the Football Safety Academy is promoting awareness of a very simple and effective technique that utilizes the body’s natural reflex mechanism to stabilize the neck, having the potential to reduce whiplash and sub-concussive trauma at all levels of football.

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