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Loyola coach John Holecek addresses his team after their victory over Glenbard North to advance to the state championship game. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
John Holecek is fine with the Illinois High School Association’s new rules for preseason football practice.
The Loyola coach is just hoping everyone else will be, too.
The IHSA on Wednesday released its new Football Acclimatization Policy, which will govern how often and how long teams can work out at the start of the preseason, along with what equipment they can wear.
* Teams can practice no more than three hours a day for each of the first five days. After that, they can alternate three- and five-hour practice days through Day 14 of the football calendar. On the five-hour days, no single practice can go longer than three hours and there must be two-hour breaks between workouts.
* The first two days of practice, only helmets are allowed. Then teams can be in helmets and shoulder pads for three days, followed by full pads thereafter.
* Workouts are banned for the first two Sundays of the football preseason.
After Holecek had a chance to digest the new guidelines, he realized they won’t have much of an effect on the Ramblers. Classes start at Loyola on Aug. 19 for freshmen and the next day for everyone else.
“We will never have a five-hour practice [day], we will never have a two-a-day [under the new guidelines],” Holecek said.
That may be the rule, rather than the exception, around the state, given how most school calendars are set up and when football starts this year (Wednesday, Aug. 14).
What will change for the Ramblers is the loss of helmet-only, two-a-day workouts at the start of fall practice. Holecek isn’t sure his players should be denied that, at least from a safety standpoint.
That also points out an odd situation: IHSA practice rules now are more restrictive at the start of workouts in mid- to late August than they are during the height of the summer heat. Coaches in football, as in other sports, are allowed 25 contact days with their athletes during the summer. Apart from equipment guidelines (first two days helmet-only, then three days of helmet and shoulder pads), there aren’t many restrictions for summer work. It’s up to coaches’ judgment how long, how hard and how often they work out each day.
IHSA assistant executive director Craig Anderson, who oversees football, said during a Thursday conference call that the football and sports medicine advisory committees would like to see an acclimatization policy for the summer as well. They hope to have one in place in time for the 2014 season.
The idea for now is for coaches to use common sense and not overwork their players during the summer contact days even though there’s no rule in place to prevent that. In the meantime, the focus is on the fall rule, which IHSA associate executive director Kurt Gibson said has been a while in the making.
“This has been an area of concern for the [sports medicine advisory committee] for the past four, five years,” said Gibson, who chairs that committee.
Given the amount of discussion and input, Gibson said coaches shouldn’t have been caught off guard.
“We recognize this is a big change,” he said. “But it’s not something that hasn’t been out there for a number of years.”
Now that it’s the law of the land, though, Holecek does have one concern.
“We’re in a fishbowl up here,” he said. “We’re not going to do anything illegal. [But] enforcement is going to be an issue.”
How big of a problem that will be remains to be seen.
But for the sake of the players whose health was the driving force behind the new rule and for the sake of the teams that follow the rule, hopefully it won’t be much of an issue.