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Is one more round too much football?
The only Orange County high school football team still playing this late in the year assembled after practice this week for a traditional cheer. And with each letter, the volume grew louder.
"C! ... H! ... A! ... M! ... P! ... S!"
For Edison, the roar usually refers to the team's annual goal of capturing the Sunset League title. This season, it reinforced a quest to win the CIF-Southern Section Southwest Division crown.
This week, the chant covered the final frontier of football championships in California: the state championship bowl games.
"Now it's for state," Edison coach Dave White said this week. "Pretty cool stuff."
Edison's marquee players and coaches share White's enthusiasm for the Chargers' showdown against Serra of Gardena in a CIF State regional championship bowl game Saturday at Orange Coast College at 7:30 p.m.
But while the Chargers (13-1) want to keep their record-setting season going, the introduction of the new regional round has stirred debate about the length of the season and player safety.
Edison and Serra (12-2) – along with other teams in the regionals – already have played more games than any of the college teams headed to their season-ending bowl games.
And the winner of the Edison-Serra game in the Southern California Division 2 regional will play a 16th game in the state final the following weekend at Home Depot Center in Carson.
Sixteen games is the same number of regular-season games in the NFL.
A leading researcher on brain injuries denounced California's game-load when contacted by The Register this week.
"It's unacceptable that high school football players (are) playing 16 games a season," said Chris Nowinski, co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.
"It's fun to be the state champ, and the playoffs are fun, but let's be reasonable here. Football is a dangerous sport. We're trying to minimize exposure. ... The more times you're hit, you're at greater risk of both concussion and long-term issues."
Earlier this week, a published study from Boston University linked repetitive head injuries to a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopaty (CTE).
The ground-breaking study analyzed brains from 85 deceased males from ages 17 to 98 with histories of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury and found CTE in 68 of the subjects, including 64 athletes.
The researchers consider mild brain injuries hits that don't necessarily rise to the level of a concussion but occur repeatedly over years.
The study, released Monday, featured six football players who stopped playing after high school along with late NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey.
Nowinski, a co-author of the report, believes the high school season should be closer to 12 games.
"In the Ivy League, I played a 10-game season (as a lineman at Harvard), and that felt like plenty," he said with a laugh. "There's no way high school players should play more games than college, or as many as the pros."
Nowinski, also co-founder of a non-profit group in Boston that researches concussions, believes there should be rules limiting how much high school teams can hit during practice.
"One of the concepts we're promoting at (the non-profit) Sports Legacy (Institute) is a hit-count, like we have pitch counts (in baseball)," he said. "The technology is a little while away but outside of that, you can limit time or days of any contact."
The new regional format was approved by the CIF State Federated Council in April 2011.
The idea behind the regional was to increase the number of schools participating in the state bowls.
The bowl system began in 2006 with three state games, but this weekend, there will five regional games in Southern California and five more in Northern California.
"It's an opportunity for more schools to be able participate," said Rebecca Brutlag, media relations officer for the Sacramento-based CIF State office.
Brutlag said the length of the season has been discussed by the CIF State's sports medicine advisory committee, which endorsed the regional games.
"Their position has always been that there are many factors in play," she said. "If the coach is following proved scientific methods, teachings and contact time ... the number of games shouldn't be a factor. If a kid is hurt, a kid shouldn't be playing."
The regional games were approved without support from the Southern Section. The state's largest section didn't support the regional format, or even the initial bowl proposal.
"I am sure that the length of the season and the number of games played by those schools who would advance to the state bowl games/regional bowl games was of concern to our member schools," Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod wrote in an e-mail.
READY FOR MORE
White, in his 27th season as Edison's coach, remembers his initial reaction to regional format and the potential for a 16-game season.
It's not the same opinion he holds today.
"I remember when it was first talked about, I (thought), 'I don't want to do that,'" he said. "But now that we're in it, it's kind of exciting. Are we being selfish? Are we being not smart with the kids? Maybe. It's a tough question.
"Part of me thinks it's too many. Part of me is, we're excited to be part of it right now."
Edison has taken precautions during its run to the regional bowl.
In the summer, Edison took a four-week break, one week longer than the required three-week dead period.
"I think we're fresher right now (because of it)," White said. "Sometimes we feel like our kids are so dead after our passing tournament and linemen competitions and just going from Dec. 1 and never stopping ... we all need a break."
White also limits the amount of hitting in practice. There are no rules in the Southern Section that govern the amount of hitting teams can do during the regular season, but White tries to keep his team hungry for contact on game day.
Edison's defense responded this season by dishing out numerous hard blows and a school-record five shutouts.
"Physically, I feel fine," Edison defensive end/fullback Garrett Garcia said. "We've kind of prepared for this the entire time."
Added linebacker/running back Elijah Herrera, "I don't think it (the season) is too long. ... It's our senior year. I'm definitely excited to play another game."
GO FOR IT
There are other factors beside injuries to consider when it comes to extending the football season.
The longer season also challenges programs emotionally and academically, Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said.
"Emotionally, it's hard – not so much on your starters and kids who play – but the kids who don't play to get them to continue to give you a great look (in practice)," he said.
"And academically, most of the programs that are in consideration (for state) put a lot of demands on the kids. They're pretty much doing football and trying to find time to keep their grades solid. The harsh reality is if the season is extended, the time commitment (to football) is extended."
Those are two reasons why Rollinson believes the season should end with the CIF-Southern Section championships.
"To me, 14 games ... that's long enough," he said.
But make no mistake: Rollinson would have accepted an invitation to the state bowl had the Monarchs beaten Long Beach Poly in the Pac-5 Division final last Saturday
"What are going to do, say, we've opted not to play?" Rollinson said. "You've got to go for it."