Concussions at heart of NJSIAA vote

Posted: December 05, 2013

In 2011, more than 50 percent of the NJSIAA's general membership voted to revamp the playoff system to allow state championships in public-school football.

That wasn't enough, as a two-thirds majority was needed to change the organization's constitution.

On Monday, less than 35 percent (95 of 278) voted in favor of a nearly identical proposal.

This was much more than a save-Thanksgiving-games revolt.

Opposition to the notion of playing championship games in the No. 1 sport in the state was widespread and deep - and it's not going to fade away in the foreseeable future.

The biggest change in the climate around football in the last two years is the biggest reason that a stunning 65 percent of voters at the NJSIAA's general membership meeting turned thumbs down to a constitutional change for which the organization's leaders had openly lobbied:

Concussion concerns.

"That's really the only thing that's changed in the last two years," NJSIAA counsel Stephen Goodell said Tuesday.

To be sure, there were folks who voted against the proposal because of concerns the NJSIAA would use the new system to further marginalize Thanksgiving games.

That issue resonates in South Jersey, although not as loudly as you might think. Quite a few people think the Thanksgiving tradition is an overblown relic of a bygone era, offered far too much reverence given the reality of the pedestrian crowd support.

Other administrators expressed concerns over additional costs, an earlier start to the season, encroachment on the winter season, and sanctity of Labor Day weekend.

But if there is one issue that seems to supersede everything, it's concern about lengthening the season and exposing athletes to additional risk in this new era of concussion awareness.

Nobody stood up with printouts of a study that proves that playing 14 games as opposed to 12 - as teams in state finals would have done under the proposal - would increase the risk of athletes sustaining concussions or experiencing health problems later in life.

But in some ways, it's just math: more games, more risk. And the tough thing for proponents of state championships is that nobody wants to line up on the side of an issue that seems to advocate increased exposure for athletes.

To many, the notion of adding games in today's climate - when NFL and NHL players have sued their respective leagues over the debilitating long-term effects of the violent collisions inherent in the sports - is out of touch with the times.

So short of doctoring the system to get state championships in public-school football in 12 games - which could be done if regular seasons were cut to eight games and just four teams qualified for the playoffs in each section - the current format will stay in place.

Football people love their game and with good reason.

But no educator can stand up and advocate change that others can argue will put students in harm's way.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

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