The Canadian Football League has taken the significant step of eliminating pads from all regular-season practices, a policy that will begin immediately and will effectively limit contact to games following the end of preseason training camp.
The decision, announced Wednesday by commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the CFL Players Association, escalates rapid attempts by football executives at all levels across North America to minimize the physical pounding players endure.
Ambrosie said the change was not aimed specifically at addressing concussions. It did come two months after a Boston-based study found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in nearly all of the 202 brains sampled from former football players.
The NFL's current CBA limits teams to 14 padded practices during the regular season, 11 of which must come in the first 11 weeks of the season. Teams are not required to use them all, and some don't.
Asked if the NFL would consider a policy similar to that of the CFL, via a negotiation with the NFL Players Association, a league spokesman said: "We are eager to discuss with the union at the earliest possible time health and safety matters and all other issues covered by the CBA."
Under the CFL policy, the only padded equipment that players will be allowed to wear during practice will be helmets. In a phone interview, Ambrosie said the policy should mostly impact offensive and defensive linemen.
"Those guys are literally hitting each other on every play," Ambrosie said. "In one game's worth of hitting, you're probably getting hit or being hit more times than most people would be in a lifetime. It sound crazy, but it's true. It does take a toll on the body.
"Those guys go throughout a lot in a long season. If we can get them to throttle back on practices, and not have constant pounding, our feeling -- with our players' association as a great partner in this -- is that it will be good for the players and our fans. Our fans want to see our best players on the field. If we can help the guys recover faster from the games and be better players the following week, if it results in one less injury, then it's worthwhile."
Ambrosie, who played in the CFL from 1985-93, said the league will monitor whether the decreased contact has a negative impact on games or quality of play. "The idea that somehow a practice with contact is going to be game-alerting, or the lack of it will be game-altering, I think we can challenge that," he said.
"It's going to challenge our coaches to find innovative ways to simulate the intensity of big, strong, fast guys going at one another. But I think it's a good bet. We've got world-class coaches in the CFL, and I like our chances of training and developing our guys with new techniques, and that's really the challenge we've laid at their doorstep."
The CFL is in Week 13 of 20.
Ambrosie started in July, well after the season started, and he said he started talking to the CFLPA about the policy as soon as he could. They came to an agreement, and since it was safety-related, they decided to make the change now.
The NFL's CBA does not expire until after the 2021 season. Any changes before then would have to be negotiated by the league and the NFLPA, which has been in contact with the CFLPA about the issue.
NFPLA assistant executive director George Atallah tweeted Wednesday that the CFL's announcement was an "interesting development."
Ending padded/contact practices immediately is an interesting development in the CFL: https://t.co/d4iuPS5aTL
— George Atallah (@GeorgeAtallah) September 13, 2017