Full Shields Closer than Ever to Being Eliminated
Hockey Rules Committee Plans to Formally Recommend Change to Three-Quarter Visors
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
There are few issues that you will get every coach in college hockey to agree upon. Eliminating the mandate for full face shields is one of them.
As far back as 30 years ago, when the requirement was implemented, coaches have been against the NCAA-mandated use of full face shields. But now, for the first time, college hockey is close to eliminating the requirement.
The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee is planning to formally recommend, at its June meetings in Indianapolis, that college hockey change from full shields to three-quarter visors. The recommendation will go to the NCAA's Committee of Competitive Safeguards, where college hockey will have a chance to further make its case.
Though the blessing of the Competitive Safeguards committee is considered crucial, a change would still then require the formal approval of the Playing Rules Oversight Panel. The Competitive Safeguards committee is made up of coaches, administrators, professors, trainers, doctors and ex-athletes.
The Rules Committee first met with members of the Safeguards committee last November, along with other interested parties, as part of an information session. Among those there to help make the case for college hockey were coaches Jack Parker, Jeff Jackson and Tom Anastos; former College Hockey Inc. Executive Director Paul Kelly; prominent doctors, including Dr. Paul Comper, the NHL's specialist on head injuries; and representatives from the USHL.
Coming out of that meeting, college hockey people felt hopeful for the first time.
"When we first raised the issue with the Health and Safety Committee, they were very negative," Kelly said. "By the end of the meeting in November, the pendulum had swung significantly and they are far more open minded on the idea."
"Give credit, the folks in the room definitely listened," rules committee chair Ed McLaughlin, the athletic director at Niagara, said. "They said, 'Tell us why you believe this.' It was a huge hurdle we got over. Going in I thought, if it's not 'no' it's a major accomplishment."
Boston University's Parker has long been an outspoken critic of the NCAA's policy, even moreso since his player, Travis Roy, was paralyzed in an on-ice accident during the first shift of his college career, in 1995.
"Jack Parker was very effective," Kelly said.
"Jack was fantastic," McLaughlin said. "He had a real impact with the group that was there."
Though hard data is difficult, the NCAA Safeguards committee people requested more data on the feelings of current college hockey players. The NCAA's associate director of playing rules administration, Ty Halpin, conducted a survey and found near-universal support.
It's been believed that the NCAA, concerned about liability issues, would never change the policy. But Kelly, a practicing attorney, believes the NCAA has the liability issue backwards.
"I told the committee that, since every other organized league in the world has gone to half visors for players over 18," Kelly said, "if you're the only league that refuses to, and then you have a guy who crashes into the boards and suffers catastrophic injury, you can bet 100 to 1 you will have a lawsuit brought against the NCAA and maybe the conference for failure to take actions when your own coaching body and medical community is telling you it will make the game safer (without them)."
Coaches believe eliminating full face shields will reduce concussions, the potential for neck and spine injuries, and reckless play.
If you are a devil's advocate, you could say that eliminating reckless play should be done while also maintaining the safety of full shields. After all, the NHL doesn't require a visor of any kind, yet still has a lot of reckless play and head shots. Why not crack down on that further and keep the full shields too?
But there is a passionate belief throughout college hockey that full shields impair peripheral and up-and-down vision, and create unsafe conditions in and of themselves.
The college hockey contingent has acknowledged that more facial lacerations and dental injuries could result from the elimination of full shields, but believe the tradeoff is worth it.
"(Data) doesn't show substantially less concussions," McLaughlin said, "but you can't prove more either. There's more facial lacerations, but not exponentially. The USHL hasn't had any catastrophic eye injuries or neck injuries, and we've had some in college hockey."
If the full shields mandate is eliminated, McLaughlin said there is a belief that everyone must go to three-quarter visors instead. If it's optional to still use full shields, then it defeats the purpose of reining in reckless behavior.
The rules committee will also need to make assurances that cracking down on head shots and high-sticking penalties will be even more vigorously enforced. And mouthguards will still be mandatory.