Is This the Beginning of the End of Football as We Know It?

USA Football, the national governing body for youth and high school football, is considering a version of the game that could look radically different from what football fans might expect.

The new rules will be tested in a pilot run at select youth football programs across the country for the fall season.

As summarized in an NPR story, here are the proposed changes:

  • A smaller playing field, which dramatically shrinks the 100-yard field to a length of 40 yards. The smaller size allows a typical field to be split in half, so that two separate games can be played on the same surface at once.
  • Fewer players on each side. In a typical game, 11 players for each team would be on the field at once; in the modified version USA Football plans to audition, that number will be reduced to seven — though it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of anywhere from six to nine.
  • There will be no special teams. In other words, that means no special teams in a bid to cut down on the punishing open-field hits those plays often involve.
  • Players at the line of scrimmage cannot use a “three-point stance” — a body position that allows for great leverage and more power off the line.
  • Players must rotate positions, rather than specialize in just one.
  • Coaches must ensure players of equal size are matched up against each other.

According to USA Football, in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), participation in flag football increased among 6-14-year-olds by 8.7 percent, and participation in tackle football increased by 1.9 percent in the same age group. The same trend was seen among high school age players, with flag football up 10.5 percent and tackle football up 2.5 percent.

As the numbers reveal, flag football is growing at a faster rate than tackle football. In addition, there are more girls playing football. In fact, without girls, football participation in flag and tackle at the high school level would have dropped instead of grown in 2015.

Despite those minor increases in 2015, total participation in football is down approximately 14% from 2009.

The obvious reason for the decline is the concern with concussions, and the rules of the pilot program are designed to address that issue head-on, by taking steps to reduce the types of plays that result in concussions.

While many people may complain that this is just another sign of us going soft, I applaud the move.

The rules certainly make sense for those below high school age; to me that is a time for kids to have fun, learn the value of effort and teamwork, and the beauty of sports. I  don’t think you need violence to make the game appealing to kids that age.

Once you reach high school, then we are talking about a more serious commitment to the sport. However, one of the biggest problems I see at the high school level is the tremendous potential difference in size among opposing players. The ages between 13-18 are a time of rapid growth for many adolescents, and to have a 280 pound senior lined up against a 160 pound freshman is just wrong.

That’s why I like the proposed rule that players of equal size must be matched against each other. Perhaps the weight limits that are used in youth football can be applied to high school football as well, with teams for those weighing less than 165 pounds, those weighing between 165-190 pounds, and those weighing over 190 pounds.

I think this would encourage more high schoolers to play, and potentially create more of a demand for such a sport in college.

Eight colleges currently field what are known as sprint football teams (formerly referred to as lightweight football.).

In sprint football, players must maintain a weight of 190 lb (78 kg) or less and a minimum of 5% body fat to be eligible to play. The end result of these weight restrictions is that, unlike conventional collegiate football which places a premium on body weight and strength, sprint football emphasizes speed and agility.

And who’s to say that these other versions of football won’t be as good, or even better than, the current version of football.

I think football in its current state appeals to a lot of players and fans because of the violence of the game, but for many others, it’s the speed and athleticism of the players that is appealing. These modified versions of football would attract such players and fans, and could lead to a completely new sport, for both men and women, at all levels.

So I’m all in on these proposed changes.

In fact, I would be happy if the changes ultimately led to the disappearance of football as we know it.

In its place could be a more exciting, athletic sport; one that would maintain many of the same skills necessary to succeed in football (passing, catching, running, blocking, etc.) while appealing to a wider range of athletes and offering a greater level of protection against injury, particularly for concussions.

I look forward to seeing the results of the pilot program.

2 thoughts on “Is This the Beginning of the End of Football as We Know It?

  1. Jim- interesting, I hadn’t heard about this. Given the concussion problems with football I think it’s just a matter of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see rugby make a big come back. Players are taught to tackle not for a big hit, rather with the intent of bringing the opposing player down in a way that helps his or her team regain the ball. Bottom line is there are less concussions (granted, no shortage of stitches and separated shoulders). Twenty years from now we will be sitting down to watch a very different product I think. Thanks for the great post.


    1. Hi Patrick, thank you for your feedback. I’ve watched a few rugby games on TV, and my sense is that the players are a bit crazy. There does seem to be a good deal of contact, but if the injuries tend not to be the head or spine, that seems much better than football. I wonder if there will be a Super Bowl 75?


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