The Centre County Bulldogs will continue to play youth football as they have been — even though USA Football has created and is trying out major changes in several cities around the country.
In January, USA Football, the national governing body of amateur football, introduced changes to make the game safer, such as having six to nine players on the field instead of the typical 11, playing on a smaller field, eliminating kickoffs and punts, and starting each player in a crouched position.
The new format, called “modified tackle,” has been tested in some larger cities, such as Cleveland, but a national rollout of the changes — and into Centre County — could still be years away.
Registration for the Bulldogs starts Tuesday.
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“Participating in team sports has major benefits for kids, but any sport they chose inherently comes with risks,” said Raelene Mellot, the president of the Bulldogs, who added that the current game is still safer than in the past. “Parents can be assured that what is being taught to players today is not the same as the style of youth football that they grew up with, or even the same techniques that were utilized just five years ago.”
Part of the reason for USA Football’s changes is to ease parents’ concerns about the sport. National participation in tackle football by boys ages 6-12 has dropped nearly 20 percent since 2009, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. The New York Times cited the data in a January article about the changes.
Officials of the Bulldogs, who are members of the Nittany Youth Football and Cheer League, have heard about the “modified tackle” but have not started discussing the possibility of using it.
Jay Brandt, who is a Nittany League representative for the Bulldogs and a player safety coach, said there is no expectation or timetable for the league to start using the “modified tackle.”
“I would love to see data on whether it is working in other areas first before it got to our league,” he said. “But, logistically speaking, it would be hard to do because of a lot of factors, such as changing the field size.”
Brandt said some of the proposed rule changes have already been introduced — such as the elimination of full-contact kickoffs and punts in the Bantam Division for 7- and 8-year-olds, There are also no live punts in the Junior Division for 9- and 10-year-olds.
“The main focus point is trying to ensure the best possible playing experience for the kids, while also making sure they are protected every time they step on the field,” said Brandt, who has been coaching since 2009.
Greg Merchlinsky is a Penn State journalism student.