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CFL eliminates full-contact padded practices during season to improve player health

In a move aimed at improving player health and safety, the Canadian Football League announced Wednesday that it is eliminating full-contact padded practices during the regular season, effective immediately. In 2018, the league will add a week to its schedule, creating a third bye week and giving players more time for rest and recuperation.

“We have developed and agreed upon these changes in the spirit of partnership and in pursuit of a shared goal: making the game we all love safer for the elite athletes who thrill our fans with their skill and talent,” CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said.

The changes are being enacted in conjunction with the Canadian Football Players Association, whose president, Jeff Keeping, said, “Removing full contact from practices is going to not only positively affect the CFL and its players but will send a signal to all sports across all levels that player safety must continue to be improved.”

According to ESPN, Ambrosie said the new policies are not being implemented specifically to reduce concussions. However, concussive and sub-concussive impact from the repeated collisions players experience have been linked to brain trauma, including the neurodegenerative disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, applauded the moves.

“I’m thrilled,” he told The Washington Post’s Rick Maese. “It’s the smart thing to do, and hopefully it sets a trend. Hopefully other leagues follow, because I think both players and owners now realize this is what’s best for the football players.”

An NFL spokesman told ESPN that the league is “eager to discuss with the union at the earliest possible time health and safety matters and all other issues covered by the [collective bargaining agreement].” George Atallah‏, an executive with the NFL Players Association, said on Twitter, “Ending padded/contact practices immediately is an interesting development in the CFL.”

The NFL’s CBA, which was ratified in 2011 and runs through the 2020 season, reduced padded practices to a total of 14 during the regular season, 11 of which must be held during the first 11 weeks. At the college level, the NCAA banned two-a-day practices during the preseason, and it recommended that live-contact practices be reduced to one per week during the regular season.

“The college level needs to be influenced by [the CFL’s moves], because there’s no way for the players to negotiate this,” Nowinski said. “That’s the problem. This is driven by the CFL players; the NFL rules are influenced by the players. If the college players had a voice, they would have the same thing. But they have to beg for it. I hope this creates that spotlight so that college coaches know that people are going to be asking questions about how they’re practicing, and hopefully they cut back as well.”

The CFL, which is in Week 13 of a 20-week schedule, had allowed 17 full-contact padded practices after training camp. In announcing the changes Wednesday, Ambrosie, who played in the league as an offensive lineman from 1985 to 1993, pointed to his own experience.

“Ours is a tough game played at tremendous speeds and with great strength by world class athletes,” said Ambrosie, who was a CFLPA executive before being named in June to run the league. “I said when I was appointed commissioner that their safety was my number one priority. … As a former player, I understand this issue from the players’ perspective and will continue to work with our players on matters of player safety.”

Ambrosie told ESPN that the CFL will keep tabs on how the new practice policy affects the quality of play, but he said he thought the league could “challenge” some traditional notions about the need for players to prepare for games by hitting each other during the week.

“It’s going to challenge our coaches to find innovative ways to simulate the intensity of big, strong, fast guys going at one another,” he said. “But I think it’s a good bet.”

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