A rash of suicides by former football players, including the murder-suicide by Jovan Belcher that left his young daughter orphaned, brought the issue of major brain damage due to repeated head trauma to national attention.
Now, the NFL is reportedly considering changing the dimensions of the playing field to Canadian regulations--their fields are, at 195 feet wide, 35 feet wider and 30 yards longer--as a potential means of reducing head injuries.
"I’m not so sure we shouldn’t think about widening the field,” said Bill Polian, an NFL executive with a history in the Canadian game, to the National Football Post. “It’s a radical idea, but I think it’s worth thinking about. You would have more space and perhaps a safer game. I say that based on my CFL experience. There are less collisions of that type in the Canadian game.”
The idea is that the wider field would give players more space to run around--and thus decrease the number of concussions. It would also probably increase the amount of scoring, and teams would have to make adjustments to their style of play to deal with the changes in the field.
But not everyone is convinced the bigger field would matter. And Rick Smith, the general manager of the Houston Texans, said the bigger field could actually make things worse.
“If you widen the field, you have more high speed collisions,” Smith said, because players would accelerate as they ran longer distances between hits.
Polian, who played six seasons in the Canadian Football League, disagrees.
“The farther a player has to run in terms of contact, the less ferocious the contact is going to be,” Polian said. “We know the most ferocious hits come from guys who are ten yards apart and lay each other out. You have fewer higher power collisions in the Canadian League than here.”
Such a change would be significant for the game, and it certainly won't be happening overnight. But that it's even under discussion shows that the league's concern over the lasting damage done by on-field concussions is more than just lip service.
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