The Big Ten Conference and USA Football are joining forces to promote player safety through an educational program focused on limiting head injuries in the game.
Big Ten coaches will appear on public-service announcements throughout the 2013 season encouraging teams to participate in USA Football's "Heads Up Football" program, which already includes nearly 2,800 youth and high school teams. The PSAs will appear during television broadcasts of games and on stadium video boards and league and school websites.
The "Heads Up Football" program provides coaches, players and parents with resources and techniques designed to "take the head out of the game." Participating coaches are required to complete USA Football's youth or high school certification courses and learn the concussion recognition and response protocols outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teams have a designated player safety coach trained by USA Football to implement safety procedures and conduct safety sessions, and players, coaches and parents are taught proper equipment fitting for helmets and shoulder pads.
"The initiative is all about education," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "about giving the technique, the fundamentals and the resources to the grade-school coaches, who are the lifeblood of our sport, as [players] move forward from grade school to high school, high school to college, college to Sundays. Football is not a concussion problem. Bad technique playing the game of football is a concussion problem waiting to happen. Playing any contact sport without proper technique and not being coached properly is why those things happen. Sometimes they happen randomly and outside of your control, but more times than not, it's not reinforcing the proper habits and technique.
"As USA Football came in and presented to us where they see the organization going of really being the educational piece of our great game, it was from our perspective as coaches an easy decision to support them."
Fitzgerald serves on USA Football's tackle advisory committee. His 8-year-old son, Jack, plays for a youth team certified by USA Football and its safety policies.
"We believe in the fundamentals and the technique that USA Football is teaching," Fitzgerald said. "I watch it firsthand as I've gone out and watched my son practice. I see it in the way the coaches coach. He's loving the game, and that's what it's all about."
In June 2012, the Big Ten announced a research initiative with the Ivy League to examine concussions and other head injuries in sports. The Big Ten hosted a head injury summit with the Ivy League on July 18-19 to narrow down the strategy of the project.
"It is extremely important to promote the proper instruction of tackling at all levels to ensure the well-being of young athletes as well as our student-athletes," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in a prepared statement. "Nothing is more important than their health. Heads Up Football reflects the innovation that is woven into football's heritage by changing for the better how our game is played and taught."