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Bigger, Faster, Stronger Players… Are Ruining Football

gfx - honest opinionFrom the high school level to the NFL, 2013 seems to be the Year of the Injury.  Prior to yesterday’s games, there were already 352 NFL players assigned “injured reserve” status.  That’s 11 per team — an entire side of the ball.  It’s also 32 players per week.  Put another way, every NFL team is losing a player per game to a season-ending injury.

Look around the SEC and you’ll see the same.  Florida and Georgia, in particular, have had their high hopes dashed by one fallen player after another.  The Gators are minus 10+ starters and lost three linebackers — three! — in Saturday’s loss to Georgia Southern, leaving a walk-on on the field to try and read and stop GSU’s triple-option.  Georgia’s offense has suffered ups and downs as star running backs and receivers have been in an out of the lineup.  Now they’ll start a backup quarterback versus Georgia Tech thanks to a season-ending ACL tear to Aaron Murray.

At quarterback alone, the SEC has been bitten hard by the injury bug.  Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have all started at least two quarterbacks due to injuries.  Georgia will do so when Hutson Mason starts on Saturday.  Mississippi State has already started two due to injuries and freshman Damian Williams could be starter #3 if the Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell can’t heal up quickly.  Florida and Tennessee have already used three different starters due to injuries.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t watch football to see third-string quarterbacks and walk-on linebackers.

Today’s football players are bigger and stronger than ever before thanks to improved weight rooms.  Thirty years ago there were NFL teams with weight rooms less impressive than the facilities now used by colleges and even the biggest of big-time high school programs.

Today’s football players are faster, better athletes than ever before thanks to weight training that now goes on almost year-round.  Yet some of the protective gear players used to wear has disappeared.  For example, shoulder padsespecially for quarterbacks — have gotten smaller and offer less protection.  But it’s not just the QBs as you can see here.

In other words, we’re taking bigger, faster, stronger players and running them into one another with — in some areas — less protection.  No wonder football is more a game of attrition than a game of skill in 2013.  And sadly, no wonder this is on pace to be one of the deadliest years in the school ranks since 1986.

Should we expect the trend to reverse itself?  On the contrary.  With every passing month another major program breaks ground on a space age weightroom facility designed to speed up, bulk up and toughen up their players even further.  Why, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that in the past three decades football players have gone from Rocky’esque training methods to Ivan Drago’s workout regimen.

And I’ve yet to mention the massive issues we’re now seeing with concussions and head injuries.

Throw into this mix the fact that there is more media than ever to cover all these strains, sprains, tears and breaks and you’ve got a potentially disastrous cocktail for the sport of football.  Mamas and Papas might start pointing little Timmy toward basketball, baseball or even soccer (now shown on NBC during autumn Saturdays) in order to keep him healthy.

The NCAA has started to respond to the changes in athletes’ physiques.  The governing body has cut down on kickoff returns by moving the kickoff spot and incentivizing touchbacks by moving the ball to the 25 from the 20.  Doing away with kickoffs altogether has also been discussed, though that seems a few years away.

A new targeting rule — poorly written and inconsistently called in its current form — has been added to the college game in the hopes of cutting down on head injuries.

A larger field to create more space might be a solution.  But going from an American-sized field (120 yards by 53.3 yards) to a Canadian-sized field (150 yards by 65 yards) would require massive stadium changes, which makes the idea less feasible.

Make no mistake, however, something needs to be done.  In increasing numbers fans are already selecting television over actual game attendance.  What happens when potential season-ticket buyers realize that they’ll be watching scrubs and third-stringers by the time November rolls ’round each year.

Injuries are and always have been part of the game.  No question.  But with bigger, faster, stronger players we’re going to continue to see an increase in injuries, which means we’ll also see a decrease in quality play.

The perfectly-sculpted athletes of today?  They’re ruining football.

 

 


4 comments
JBlake
JBlake

While PEDs is an issue I am not sure that it is the overriding concern, nor do I think the premise of bigger athletes is the major problem either. As we are learning numerous older athletes as dealing with head injury issues, this goes back like about 30 or so years, so the equipment factor is lessened then too. While I do think both are contributors, I don't think that they are the biggest factors. For me there are a couple things that are really pressing. To your notion of not wanting to see the 3rd string quarterback I would say that Quarterbacks, especially in CFB, have been turned into part time running backs. They are exposing themselves far more often and these are the prices paid. Of the many SEC QBs injured only one was not running the ball alot, that being LSU's Mettenberger, and he was able to bounce back from his after a bye week. But Shaw, Franklin, Allen, Driskel, the Aub QB, and Kentucky QB, and even Murray were running the ball.

Unicorn Believer
Unicorn Believer

Sorry, it's not training and nutrition. It's PEDs, the big untold story and dirty secret of "major league" football (both NFL and NCAA). That there is not a yearly list of PED offenders facing suspension by the NCAA shows that they aren't even really trying to get a handle on this problem. You mention the old days. I heard recently, but can't cite a source, that the secret of the Steeler's 1970s success was that they were on the cutting edge of the steroid era. Just like the bodybuilders of the day. In any event, if they cheat in baseball, track, and cycling, do you not think that this isn't a significant contributor to "bigger, faster, stronger" in football?  I'm sure it's just staff physicians treating their "Low T" epidemic. But then again, why ruin the party?

JBlake
JBlake

Mostly for me football needs to stop with silly targeting rules and merely change how defenders can 'effectively' hamper offenses. Telling defenders to merely be bad at their jobs for the sake of the other guy is siily. Expand bump and run to 10 yards, so CBs are more encouraged to be closer to their WRS rather than 10 yards off with running starts. Make handfighting legal in more situations so that massive hits aimed at dislodging passes are noth the most effective way to disrupt WRs. More bye weeks for better healing periods. Those are my thoughts on it.

the_voice
the_voice

@Unicorn Believer I think that's a part of the equation in college, UB. I recently had an older dog of mine who was having difficulties. Within 48 hours of steroid use he was his old self. Give the "indestructible" young male a choice between playing time today and a healthy future and very few would think twice about the tradeoff.

Another factor is the equipment. If you can deliver a high impact blow to a vulnerable area of your opponent with little threat to yourself, you will. Soften the helmet and pads and you'll keep more players on the field.


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