The Slow Demise of High School Football in South Carolina

In ten to fifteen years, we are going to look at the high school football game, scratching out heads and saying, “what happened?” The participation numbers are down and will continue to go down each year as we allow this great sport to have the life strangled out of it by something that we did ourselves. And we are going to look at the remaing programs and not recognize the game.

Several years ago, the SCHSL decided that, in the wake of a lot of information relating to safety that wasn’t necessarily accurate, it was in the best interest to no longer allow football athletes to participate in eight quarters of football in our state. There has been so much misinformation about CTE that the initial onslaught scared the hell out of parents of football players. In the past, some of the junior varsity players could start and play their games on Thursday nights and then dress on Friday night for varsity, standing in reserve in case of injuries or blow out games. It was a good thing. It allowed for the development of these younger players on junior varsity and then the possibility of getting them some limited snaps at the varsity level in certain situations. That I can recall, there were no serious injuries that can be linked to the eight quarters as the cause.

The other thing this allowed was for freshmen football team to play other freshmen. 14 year old’s on 14 year old’s. 9th grade on 9th grade. That was safe. While we all know that there are some freshmen that are mature enough to play up, the vast majority of them have no business playing against 16 and 17 year old’s.

Now, with the prohibition of the eight-quarter allowance, we have seen junior varsity and/or 9th grade team programs dropped, and a lot of the result of this is what we now see as diminishing participation numbers in this sport. The sad thing is, the main reason this discussion of doing away with the rule ever starting is there were coaches out there who abused the rule, having some players starting on both nights because for some reason, winning JV football games was important to them.

When a junior varsity program gets cut, that means the sophomores and juniors that would be starting and playing full games on Thursday nights, developing as players, are now forced to play varsity football before they are ready. The results of this are that the majority of these kids work their tails off all week at practice, getting pummeled by the older players and then as a reward get to stand on the sidelines on Friday nights with little hope of actually getting in the game.

Guess what? This is 2019. Fifteen-year old’s are not going to put in all that work to just stand and watch a football game on Friday night. Those are the ones who are leaving the game. There is too much for them to do in todays day and age – jobs, hang out and party with their peers. It’s just not going to happen for all of those kids to stay involved.

Killing the freshman team is an option. But now you have a vast number of players who are not ready physically to compete with 15 and 16 and sometimes 17 year old’s playing junior varsity. They may be playing against programs that DO have a freshman team so they are facing all older players. Please explain to me how THAT is safe?

Proposal to fix this? Well, we aren’t going to get it voted back by the membership. The Executive Director of the SCHSL is dead set against allowing this to ever come back. It would take an almost unanimous floor vote at the Athletic Directors and Administrators conference to get that done and that won’t happen.

Georgia allows 6 quarters. While this would require self-monitoring, which was the case with the eight quarters, it is a feasible thought. Alabama allows 8-quarters but they play their freshman and JV games on Mondays, giving three days between the sub varsity and varsity contests. This also enables the program to practice all of the players together if they choose to do so.

I am not going to say that the safety issue isn’t real. But I am going to say, and I have a medical background, that I am not a hardline believer in all of the research that has been thrown at the public in relation to CTE. But there have been errors demonstrated in the studies bout the correlation between age exposure and development of CTE. Also, the acceptance of CTE only being in people who experience RHI or play contact sports has been shown to not be true but because of the media it is still a widely held belief. Not one shred of evidence can be shown demonstrating that playing contact sports as a youth causes CTE and these problems later in life. There is not a single article in scientific journal that can show evidence of that. And there is not one piece of scientific evidence demonstrating that concussions cause CTE. The misinformation is staggering and the panic it has caused among parents and administrative groups like the SCHSL and teh NFHSS has made an impact.

And why the limitation on JUST football if this is a legitimate safety issue? There are currently no limitations on the number of games/periods/quarters that soccer or lacrosse players can play in a week. I believe if you would take a look at the number of concussions that are reported from soccer, including girls soccer, cheerleading and wrestling you’d be surprised. So then, is this really about safety?

Parents of football players need to get involved in this discussion. If we are going to save football in this state, and really every other state, we need to get the kids back on the field and keep kids from walking away from the game. While this prohibition of the eight-quarter rule is not the only thing accosting high school football, it is the one that is currently strangling the life out of it in our state. Talk to your state representatives. Let them know your concerns.

Join me on Twitter on Thursday for our weekly chat #AskSCVarsity and tweet your questions and get in on the discussion.

About Jim Baxter

Founder of SCVarsity.com and publisher of SCVarsity and Football in the Midlands. National recruiting anlayst witih 30 years of experience in the industry.

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18 comments

  1. What is your medical background? Plenty of data out there showing CTE can be caused be concessions,head trauma and the cumulative effects only increase the severity.

    • I’ve had 30 years in the healthcare field as a masters RN in both Trauma and sports medicine. I have two advanced degrees, neither of which makes me an experet on CTE. What it does, however, is enables me to comprehend well the literature I read on the topic. There is not one bit of evidence (scientific) that shows concussions lead to CTE, not in a medical or science journal. There are plenty of articles out there that say different and if you look at some of the “experts” who comment on the topic, they are no more an expert on than I am. I read one the other day that had an ER Physician commenting that “every documented case were NFL players” which is a laughable statement. CTE patterns are being studied by Neuropathologists world wide and they will tell you “we don’t know what causes it.” There are documented patients with the CTE pattern that have NEVER played competitive sports, never had head trauma…so how do you explain those if CTE is caused by Repetative Head Impact (RHI)? You say there is data out there proving Concussions lead to CTE? Show me that data that is in a scientific journal or medical journal.

    • By the way, Bobbi, I’m not denying that concussions are a problem and repatative instances are serious. And Post Concussion Syndrome is a real thing, much worse for some than others. 2nd impact syndrome is a readl thing. That is one of the reasons that the return to play protocol has changed so much. But do not confuse PCS with CTE. Again, there is NO evidence that suggests concussions are what cause CTE.

      • I think you scared Bobbi away with facts.

      • There IS evidence that concussion leads to CTE and it isn’t even all that new at this point. For example, see this review here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4633042/

        More concerning is that 16% of cases of CTE are only accompanied by subconcussive trauma and that repetitive brain injury (RBI) such as experienced by contact sports leads to other cognitive issues even without CTE. See here and citations within. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5220530/#!po=51.3889

        While correlation isn’t causation, there are established protocols for observational studies that provide ways to associate relationships, such as Bradford Hill criteria and using this pretty easily connects concussion and RBI to later life brain issues.

        Dose, age of first concussion, and recovery time matter of course. That’s why youth soccer banned heading for younger players. You do see CTE and other issues in soccer, hockey, boxing…but soccer and hockey seem to require more years of exposure, likely due to fewer hits and less force per hit, than football and boxing. It isn’t Only football that is being picked on, as you imply.

        Your absolute assertions that there is no relationship between football and CTE are incorrect. And if anyone interprets them to mean no relationship between football and any later neurological issues, that is even more incorrect. If your kid plays football for one year in 8th grade, is he (or she in rare cases) definitely going to get CTE? Of course not, but NONE of the science says that. Will that kid have brain-injury related problems in later life if they play all through high school? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on frequency and severity of exposure and recovery time. Concussion protocols have been a big step forward for all sports, particularly when they are rigorously followed. Rule changes that make football and other contact sports safer help ensure that more kids will play and can continue playing.

        If the 8-quarter rule makes football safer, then it should stay. Certainly one day of recovery between games is short. Moving JV to Tues might be a good idea. I agree with comments below that if a kid isn’t playing, they will more likely quit, because riding the bench isn’t that fun. Maybe it should be a 5-6 quarter rule in conjunction with JV moving earlier in week and limits on number of kids eligible to play both.

        I think the issues surrounding participation in football are much bigger than this rule though. Health is one, but making the game safer will mitigate some of that. Competition with other activities is a bigger issue. Our HS offers 34 or 36 total sports, plus music, arts, etc. at AAA level. Football is losing players to soccer and lax. Jobs, hanging out, and partying have always been present, so I don’t think that is the driver.

        From a parent’s perspective, arguments against a rule enacted to improve health and safety without an alternative solution except to erroneously denigrate research, won’t have much impact.

        As a side note: NIH-funded research is public domain so anyone can look it up and read it for themselves. I figure Jim has. I just did too. It’s easier to use Google scholar than a simple Google search.

        • Your source is not an accredited scientific nor medical journal and your article, as usual with these articles, demonstrates not evidence. In fact, it states so in the conclusion of the article which I will paste here:
          Conclusions

          Experiencing a few well-managed concussions is not sufficient for the development of CTE. However, experiencing many concussions over a lifetime—especially if they are not recognized or adequately treated—may be a risk factor for CTE. Indeed, continuing to play after a concussion may expose the injured brain to persistent subconcussive injury during a period of heightened vulnerability.

          I point out the words “may be”.

          The leading neuropathologists in the world continue to maintain they cannot say they know what causes CTE. The tau experienced in CTE also occurs in patients who have never had concussions, never played contact sports, and never suffered traumatic brain injury.

          Do not confuse hypothesis with facts.

          • Again not true. Current Pain and Headache Reports is a peer reviewed journal indexed and carried by Pubmed, Medline, and NIH. It has been around for 25 years.

            Of course the conclusion says “may be” because at this point we don’t have a test for CTE that we can do while people are alive. Scientists are notoriously cautkous, as they should be. But the evidence in support of the hypothesis, and supporting the association between repetitive subconcussive brain injuries and later neurological issues is too strong to write off as there is absolutely no evidence of a connection. That is not responsible and more dangerous.

          • Again, you just said yourself “may be”. This debate can go on and on so I’ll just end it here. Burn the fact is there is NO conclusive proof (scientific) to support those things.

            And PLEASE don’t throw “peer review” in there as a weighted part of your argument. Do you know how peer review works? Do you know how flawed and meaningless “peer review” is in reference to articles in the scientific community?

            There is so much we don’t know in terms of tau deposits and factors that lead to those deposits in critical areas of the brain. We also don’t know how the tau deposits lead to the clinical symptoms related to CTE because there are also those same symptoms and patterns in Alzheimer’s and Dementia brains as well. Again, WE DON’T KNOW. So, “playing it safe” may be a reaction but it is NOT based on scientific evidence. Patterns are not evidence. Especially when the same patterns show up in other situations not related to RHI.

            We will agree to disagree. You are entitled to your opinion and the opinion of the literature you read but that IS all itnis…opinions and hypothesis.

  2. You are missing a big part of this. .I feel we are losing a lot of Middle School FB players because, as it is in our school district, there are middle school championships. Thus coaches at that level are playing for wins and losses, and not for developing FB players. I have seen over and over again middle school FB athletes that were undersized and un-coordinated that have developed into great athletes in other sports, but denied the athletic experience in FB due to wins and losses. I could be be a 4 foot 8 inch, 89lb athlete in middle school, go to every practice and never see a bit of time on the game field . 2 years later I am 6 foot and 185 and have no desire to play football as a wide receiver, all though I am athletic, because of my MS experience. Change the culture and the athletes might not run away. I don’t think concussions have them running.

    • That is just one more problem football is dealing with. As I pointed out in the article, the abolition of the 8-quarter rule is not the only thing accosting high school football.

  3. I was a head football coach for 20 years and then a district athletic director and a principal for 20 more years. I watched high school football numbers begin to drop dramatically when presidents stated they would not allow their sons to play in combination with the negative publicity of concussion research. But what really hurt numbers in SC was when they passed the 8 quarter rule. What this did was allow coaches to depend upon sophomores to play key backup roles on their varsity squads instead of relying upon their coaching skills of getting their own junior and senior second stringers ready to fill in and play. How would you like to be a junior or a senior backup player and have a sophomore that played in a JV game the night before play ahead of you on a Friday night? It was appalling to me to watch large numbers of sophomores dress out on Friday nights just to sit on the bench, knowing they would not play, and to make it look like the coach had large numbers of players in his program. A freshman or sophomore JV player that is made to dress out on Friday night might think it is a privilege at first, but will quickly realize this futility and the fun element soon dwindle into misery. Know this fact, the number one reason kids play football is to have fun and if they are not playing or getting reps in practice, they are not having fun! When it becomes not fun, they will begin to doubt the worthiness of their time and effort…and they will eventually quit or not come out the next year. I watched this evolve and happen quickly when they changed the rule allowing 8 quarters of play.

    There are plenty of programs that have at least 40 or 50 players on their varsity that are all juniors and seniors. What are these coaches doing that grow these kind of numbers? I submit to you that they are making their practices and workouts worthy and meaningful and putting at least 30 to 40 plus players on the field even when they lose a game (I think this is what Dabo is doing at Clemson).

    We were proud of the numbers of players in our programs (120 plus 9-12 graders in a school of 1100 and 150 plus in a school of 1400). Furthermore, we knew how critical it was to have high numbers and to recruit kids to come out and play.

    The 8 quarter rule is not the way to increase numbers. The way to increase participation is to make the game fun and worthy of the time and effort of the kids. This is especially true for 9th grade and JV teams. We should be looking at rules that would allow more playing opportunities for these lower level teams. Right now, the SCHSL rules limit the number of games for these teams. We must begin to think outside the box. What about 9th and JV pre-season jamborees or allowing for post season play….how about tournaments similar to those now used by youth football clubs?

    • Bill, as I pointed out tin the article, the abolishment of the 8-quarter rule is only one of the things that are causing diminishing numbers in high school football. A lot of it is starting much earlier at the youth level and even middle school level. But you can’t sit there and tell me that sub varsity programs have not been effected when I look across the state and see programs that HAVE been impacted by this. Chapin, for instance no B-team. River Bluff can’t schedule enough games for their 9th grade team so they have actually had to play other schools’ JV teams. Irmo HS – no B Team. The list goes on. And you are right about one thing. Kids aren’t going to play if they are standing on the sidelines watching someone else play on Friday nights, which is what is happening now. At least when that player was starting on Thursday night, he got to play.

      But if this is truly about safety, which is how it was originally presented to the body in 2015, then why hasn’t soccer, wrestling, lacrosse and cheer had limitations put upon them? Soccer has a game per year restriction but there are no quarter/period weekly limitations on these sports. Check the numbers on concusions in girls soccer on the national level. Check it on Wrestling.

      Then, go find me scientific articles in medical journals or scienctif jounral that demonstarte proof that concussions cause CTE. Find one with evidence that there is an age correlation in RHI athletes to later in life CTE. You won’t find them. Because there are none. In fact, some of the leading neuropathologists in the world have admitted “we don’t know what causes it.” There are documented patients with the CTE pattern that have NEVER played competitive sports, never had head trauma…so how do you explain those if CTE is caused by Repetative Head Impact (RHI)?

      This thing is not about safety. If it was, there would be restrictions on the other sports and not just from concussions. What about overuse injuries, which are common in sports such as soccer and baseball? Where is the safety concern there?

      The only problem we ever had with the 8-quarter rule was that there were a few ego-maniac coaches that abused it and used players who were either starters or significant-game-time players on both the sub varsity and varsity teams. It was a monitoring issue of guys like that.

      It was told face to face to coaches in this state that “everyone is going to this” by leaders from the SCHSL and that turned out to be an untruth. Georgia is doing 6 quarters; Alabama is doing 8 quarters with subvarsity on Mondays. There are ways to make this work if it truly is about safety but right now It’s not about safety. It’s about ego and denial of the fact that we had a knee-jerk reaction without getting all of the answers and information first.

      I thank you for your service and years as a coach. I am sure you impacted many lives.

      • Agree with you wholeheartedly re issues at lower levels. Realize fully CTE issue and the impact on the “safety” factor that likely is the one basic reason causing decline in participation. My viewpoint is focused on what high school coaches have control of when dealing with declining numbers. Coaches have no control over the CTE controversy. They certainly do control the “fun” factor and this is the number one reason kids give for playing sports.How does the 8 qtr rule increase participation numbers? How does it impact the fun factor?
        You mentioned coaches who abused the 8 qtr rule. How about limiting this rule to a designated number of players from JV team? Say 5 players? Better yet, how about graduate this number by class? (5 for AAAAA, 6 /AAAA, 7/ AAA, 8/ AA, 9/ A). When this rule was first bandied about, it was a solution for only the very small schools(A & AA).
        As you can see, I am most interested in solutions. But if the problem starts as you show at the lower levels, then what are some things/practices/ideas that will help grow numbers?
        Regardless, to get more kids to play, we must find ways that will attract them to the game. Making the game worthy of their time and effort and focusing on how to make the game fun for them. This is what coaches control and they must focus their energy on these factors.

        • North Carolina was doing what you mention with a limnited number of players. Something like 12 players could dress for a total of eight quarters or equivelent of 2 games. But I don’t know if they are even doing that now.

  4. Young men need this game. I feel all of your points are valid and great. I believe that we should now make football a winter to late fall sport. I believe this would decrease injury and heat related problems. Practice time has decreased because of heat and the technique of the game has decreased because of heat. You may increase the numbers by playing baseball in the fall. Many guys specialize now during the fall and this may increase participation.

    • The heat related thing and Wetbulb is an entire different monster and something needs to be done about that too. These kids are NEVER going to get aclimated to the heat if they can’t practice.

    • Good idea JR…I submit to you thatwith spring practice the way it is now, we could easily knock out the first week of August, as well as the “0” week.

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