Chuck Ahsmann has always had a specific way of running his Crystal Lake South football program, making the most of every minute to prepare his team for the rigors his team will face during the regular season.
But coaches will now be forced to restructure their practice plans after the IHSA Board of Governors approved a policy change Wednesday, limiting how much time teams can spend on the field in the 14 practice days the state allows for preseason workouts.
The IHSA Board of Directors will use the 2013-14 school year to begin to implement more changes that were also approved Wednesday. Starting in 2014, rules will move up the practice start date two days from a Wednesday to a Monday, will eliminate live tackling during the summer contact period and will require schools to follow the acclimatization schedule during the summer as well. Those changes, while approved, cannot be mandated until next year because of by-law guidelines.
Under the new practice time limit policy which goes into affect this summer, practices will be limited to three hours a day for the first four days of preseason workouts with a required two-hour window of rest in a cool environment between practice sessions. Teams can practice up to five hours a day three times during the second week of practice, but can't practice longer than three hours at a time with two hours rest again required between practices.
Coaches also cannot schedule back-to-back five-hour practice days in a move the IHSA said is based on keeping players safe on summer days when the temperatures and heat indexes can reach dangerous levels.
"I guess I've got to make some changes," Ahsmann said Wednesday night. "I guess the hard thing to accept is that most coaches understand that you can't overwork kids anymore ... and it's really going to force coaches to reorganize what they do and I think you're going to end up spending more time in the classroom trying to teach so that when you get on the field, you can start executing."
The IHSA released a scripted schedule that outlines time limits, allowing coaches seven full-padded practices over the first 14 days of practice. Players can only wear helmets the first two days of workouts before moving to helmets and shoulder pads for the next three.
While Ahsman said he rarely practices more than two hours at any given time, he admits he will have to be much more structured in how he sets preseason practices up. Teams will be allowed one-hour walk through sessions, but only after the two-hour rest period.
While IHSA officials insist the changes were based on concerns over risks of over-heating, Ahsmann doesn't necessarily agree. He points to proposed legislation introduced by Rep. Carol Sente seeking to limit full contact to cut down on concussions and other serious head injuries.
Ahsmann sees Wednesday's decision as more of a reaction to trying to eliminate injuries. He's not certain setting time limits will accomplish that.
"If you're out there for three hours hitting full-go, kids are going to get hurt," Ahsmann said.
Johnsburg coach Mike Maloney understands the risks that come with football. He has sensed for a while that change was coming and prefers it comes from the IHSA rather than a state bill. Like Ahsmann, Maloney rarely has his players on the field for more than two hours at a time, making him less concerned about Wednesday's ruling.
He referred to two-a-days as being something from the "Dinosaur Era", insisting coaches have changed their practices over the years to help ensure player safety. So when it comes to the state telling him how much he can practice on given days, he's not overly concerned, especially given the climate football finds itself in these days.
"It's not like this is a death sentence by any means," Maloney said. "For the most part, I trust what the IHSA is doing. They've got their own medical committee, it's a hot topic.
"But the game will never be 100 percent safe. There's inherent risk in it, it's an accepted risk, those who have played have played knowing the risk of injury."
Maloney believes 99.9 percent of the coaches will adhere to the rules while Ahsmann said there were likely "enough bad apples out there" who forced the state to take action. But both agree that most schools are taking necessary steps to ensure player safety, which lays the foundation for Wednesday's policy change.
"We're going to make decisions that are in the best interest of our kids," Maloney said. "That's pretty much our obligation. We love the game and we're stewards of the game and we want kids to have a positive experience."
The policy restricts coaches from using the two-hour rest period for conditioning or football-related activity, keeping coaches from sending their players from the field to the weight room. The recovery period must take place in a cool environment.
Wednesday's ruling also defines the walk-through as a "teaching opportunity" but does not allow players to wear helmets or shoulder pads. It also specifies that a football should not be used, again keeping coaches from possibly putting players in dangerous situations.
It also requires players to spend at participate in 90 minutes of practice for 12 consecutive days before playing in a regular-season game.
"It's all good and it was a long time coming," said South Beloit athletic director Drew Potthoff, who will take over the same role at Marian Central this summer. "This is a step in the right direction with all the bad press football has been getting. We have to start doing what's right for kids and to keep them safe. That's what this is all about."
Potthoff said the new policy puts the onus on coaches to plan their practices more effectively. He also said schools will have to police themselves, giving athletic directors the responsibility of keeping tabs on what their football coaches are doing.
The changes come three weeks after two IHSA committees met in Springfield to discuss player safety as it relates to both heat-related risks and concussion concerns. Among those making presentations was a representative from the Sports Legacy Institute, which is seeking to eliminate full-speed contact drills in the off-season nationwide.
IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in a statement Wednesday that he believes most coaches understood some level of change was coming. Several states have moved toward eliminating full contact drills while putting serious restraints on practice time – something Hickman said he wanted to avoid with Wednesday's ruling.
Others have eliminated two-a-days entirely.
“ Football safety remains in the spotlight nationally and it was important that our committees took their time to study the data and institute a policy that they felt was best for student-athletes in Illinois," Hickman said in the statement. "It is paramount that we use a meticulous approach in dealing with such important matters, rather than react quickly because of what is occurring in other states or elsewhere.”
NOTE: A change was made to this story to clarify the start date for the new practice time limits policy.
8/14 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk-through with two hours rest. Helmets
8/15 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk-through with two hours rest. Helmets
8/16 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk-through with two hours rest. Helmets, shoulder pads
8/17 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk-through with two hours rest Helmets, shoulder pads
8/18 Day of rest - no practice permitted
8/19 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk-through with two hours rest Helmets, shoulder pads
8/20 Five hours of practice limit with no practice exceeding three hours with one-hour walk through with two hours rest. Full pads
8/21 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk through with two hours rest Full pads
8/22 Five hours of practice limit with no practice exceeding three hours with one-hour walk through with two hours rest. Full pads
8/23 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk through with two hours rest Full pads
8/24 Five hours of practice limit with no practice exceeding three hours with one-hour walk through with two hours rest. Full pads
8/25 Day of rest - no practice permitted
8/26 Five hours of practice limit with no practice exceeding three hours with one-hour walk through with two hours rest. Full pads
8/27 Three hours of practice limit with one-hour walk through with two hours rest Full pads