Over the weekend, news leaked of the NFL considering changing their field dimensions to that of the Canadian Football League. Former NFL committee member Bill Polian admitted that the league had examined the move to the wider Canadian field in years past, and the idea is now on the table once again.
The reason behind the proposal is to make the game safer, and limit the bone-jarring hits the NFL has become known for, thus deterring head injuries.
In Canada, the field is 12.7 yards wider than that of the American game, and Polian said in a statement to the league that based on his CFL experience, "there are less collisions of that type in the Canadian game." Let's examine the positives of the move, if it does in fact happen.
For obvious reasons, the ferocity of the collisions will go down, and lessen the possibility for injury. Scoring will also increase, as finesse offensive players will have more green space to work with.
But on the contrary, my high school science classes taught me that the greater the distance an object has to remain in motion, the stronger the impact it will have when it reaches its final resting point. Defensive players often go five to 10 yards before they make a hit ... does increasing the distance in turn make it any safer? It is a worthy idea, and it doesn't hurt to try. The cost of widening the field would be high for the average fan's town to pony up the funds, but not for the NFL. With a larger field, athletes will have to condition for peak endurance, rather than bulk.
The NFL is a multibillion dollar operation, and shelling out the greenbacks for a wider field is chump change compared to the cost of former players' lawsuits for head injuries suffered while playing.
But if the NFL changes the dimensions of their field, would it not mean that colleges and high schools would have to do the same? College football for many years has been the stepping stone for many professional football hopefuls.
The cost of such a project to completely change the dimensions of the field would not be a big deal for Alabama, or other top-tier football programs, but what about the little guy?
A domino effect can be foreseen with the NCAA asking its universities to do the same thing if the NFL does in fact pass this measure. Universities such as my alma mater, UNC Charlotte, have recently added football and built a $35 million 15,600 seat stadium on campus. If the NFL goes through with their plan to expand the field, Charlotte, like many schools, may have to oblige to doing the same with their field. High schools could also be impacted, and as many of you readers are members of your high school's booster clubs, you know darn well that the MIAA will not help schools shoulder the cost, if it does happen.
As a student, I was required to take a public speaking course, in which I was given the opportunity to pick a topic to give a 30-minute how-to speech on. The topic I chose was how to improve helmet safety. After extensive research of scholarly articles published in medical journals and many trips to Pete's Coffee Shop in the Atkins Library, I discovered that lack of form and the false sense of security that today's helmets provide was the main culprit.
Looking back at the old leatherback helmets of the early days of the game, there weren't as many head injuries documented. All the old-timers out there will tell me that's because they were not reported like they are today. My argument in the speech was to bring back the leather helmets, or something of the sort and you will see the viciousness of the hits decline.
The reasoning behind my thoughts are that with these new "concussion-proof" helmets, players feel invincible and are more likely to engage in reckless helmet-to-helmet tackles. If the helmets were less "padded," wouldn't you be a little more cautious? Over the snowy weekend, the Rugby Sevens were on television, and those guys have no pads and often no headgear.
When do you ever hear of a rugby player complaining of head injuries? Answer? Not very often.
Player safety at all levels of the game are a top priority, and all avenues need to be explored, but is widening the playing field really the answer? Time will only tell.