The annual National Federation of State High School Associations survey of high school athletics was released Friday. The good news is overall high school sports participation increased for the 29th consecutive year, led by an increase of more than 15,000 participants in girls’ sports. The, uh, also good news? Participation in 11-on-11 full-contact football decreased for the second straight season, by more than 21,000 participants:
In 2017, participation in 11-player football was 1,035,942, a two-percent decline of 21,465 from the previous year. The decline from 2015 to 2016 was 27,865, or 2.5 percent.
While there have been some recent reports about schools dropping the sport of football for the 2018 season because of declining numbers, the overall number of schools discontinuing 11-player football before the 2017 season was minimal – a decline of 20 schools from 14,099 to 14,079.
The total number of schools offering 11-on-11 football also decreased, by 20 schools, from 14,099 to 14,079. NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff acknowledged the the decline is likely related to safety concerns about tackle football, but sounds optimistic about the sport’s future at the high school level:
“[We] are encouraged that the decline in high school football has slowed due, in part, to our efforts in reducing the risk of injury in the sport. While there may be other reasons that students elect not to play football, we have attempted to assure student-athletes and their parents that thanks to the concussion protocols and rules in place in every state in the country, the sport of football is as safe as it ever has been.”
Football may be “as safe as it ever has been,” but that’s a low bar to clear, and anyway as long as players are dropping dead each summer at college football programs, the perception that football is fundamentally more dangerous than other team sports will persist in the minds of concerned parents.