With youth football participation numbers falling and fears about concussions becoming more pervasive than ever, USA Football is proposing changes to the game for its youngest participants.
According to the New York Times, the organization is testing a format in select cities that reduces the number of youth players on the field from 11 to nine or fewer, makes fields smaller, gets rid of kickoffs and punts, and eliminates the three-point stance (in which kids' heads are more vulnerable).
"This is the future of the game," Scott Hallenbeck, executive director of USA Football, told the New York Times. "All of this is all about how do we do a better job, and a smarter job around the development of athletes and coaches in the game of football."
The number of children ages 7-17 who play tackle football has dropped 14 percent — from 5.1 million to 4.4 million — since 2005, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
Many leagues, including USA Football, have begun to endorse flag football as an alternative to tackle. An estimated 1.7 million children under the age of 14 played flag football last year, according to USA Football. In Tampa Bay alone, Under the Lights' local flag presence went from non-existent to 2,000 players in a year and a half.
USA Football's move toward a modified version of tackle football to help alleviate health concerns falls in line with other national organizations. U.S. Soccer recently prohibited players from heading the ball before age 11. In 2011, USA Hockey banned checking for children under 13.