Bill Moos is a traditionalist when it comes to college football.
One also might say the 70-year-old Nebraska athletic director trends toward “old school.”
So, it’s predictable that he isn’t wild about the NCAA’s ongoing changes to August football practice.
Moos feels the changes are a bit on the, shall we say, soft side.
Keep in mind, Moos played the sport at Washington State during an era when teams practiced twice a day in full pads for several days in a row.
Yes, with live tackling each day.
“Tackling? Jiminy Christmas, it was what we used to refer to as ‘Full Pack, Jack,'” he said. “Every drill was live.”
He paused and thought for a moment.
“That wasn’t just for a few days,” he said. “That was for 14 days. And one year our coach (the late Jim Sweeney) thought he was going to be ahead of the game and had us go three practices a day.”
Those days are over, never to return. What we’re seeing now doesn’t resemble those days in hardly any way.
During the past five years alone, the NCAA has stripped the teeth from preseason camp in August in the name of safety, softening one of the more grueling periods for players. Officials have eliminated two-a-days, reduced the number of practice days overall and added mandatory “off” days.
The trend continues, and this month is significant in that regard. According to SI.com, the fifth change to preseason camp in six years is expected to occur in coming days, as officials are poised to abolish long-standing collision drills, such as the Oklahoma Drill, and reduce the number of full-padded, contact practices and scrimmages.
On Thursday, a subgroup of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee is expected to recommend the changes to the Division I Council, which must OK the new rules at its May 19 meeting.
As SI.com points out, college football is walking a tightrope, balancing between making practices safer and allowing enough physicality to ensure that players, especially freshmen, are prepared for a live game — a leading concern among coaches.
The latest model being strongly considered is referred to as an 8-9-8 model: eight practices in helmets only, nine in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) only, and eight in full pads. Under current rules, coaches are required to hold the first two practices in helmets and the next two in shells with the remaining days unregulated.
So, the movement toward less live hitting — with the goal of limiting concussions — continues to steam ahead at a remarkable rate.
Let’s be clear, Moos isn’t advocating for 1960s-style practices. He supports the NCAA’s concerns about concussions and injuries in general. But, again, there’s a fine line.
“What the NCAA is talking about is totally to protect the players, and I can agree with some of that because these guys are bigger, stronger, faster and there are still programs that are going to turn them loose,” he said. “Now, having said that, you get into the season and you’re playing games, and guys aren’t tackling well these days.
“If you want to play good golf and you go out and play three holes a week and don’t practice on the range, you’re going to struggle. Sports is about repetition. Tackling is an art. Blocking is an art. And just running up there three-quarters speed and hugging some guy, that ain’t gonna get it done on Saturdays when the action is live.”
As it stands, the NCAA is poised to abolish “board drills.” It definitely should reconsider that stance.
SI.com reports that nearly every coach who spoke to the website said his team still uses the board drill, in which two players align inches apart in a three-point or four-point stance and then collide. The drill is designed to teach the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, they say. Frustration over its impending elimination is clear across the coaching community, SI.com reports.
Moos obviously shares that frustration.
“You can ease up and have fewer days in pads,” he said. “But you’ve got to have more than what the NCAA is suggesting. The speed and the skill required to play this game at a high level requires even more (practice) than it did five, 10 years ago.”
“There’s a position somewhere in between that would be more beneficial,” he added. “You have to ask yourself: How many of these players are going to get hurt on Saturday because they’re not prepared for what they’re facing?”
This discussion doesn’t get all that much fan attention, but it’s clearly a significant matter for many coaches, and some ADs.
Most fans apparently don’t notice how sloppy games in September have been in recent seasons. They may soon start to notice, and drawing fans into stadiums is already an issue.
Yes, it’s weighty discussion because safety of the players has to be the foremost concern.
Moos, though, can provide levity to almost any situation.
“We went full blast for 2½ hours when I played, then after dinner we’d come back — still taped up and everything — and put shoulder pads and helmets on,” he said. “We would then work for 90 minutes on the passing game, and we never threw the damned ball in games!
“You know what I’ve always said about eliminating concussions?” he added. “Take the freaking facemasks off.”
He was joking. At least I think he was joking.
Photos: All of the sights from the return of the Red-White Spring Game at Memorial Stadium
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