Quick little Saturday nugget to chew on while you're watching the only weekend of the college football season the Gophers can't ruin: any concerns about the rash of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a degradation of brain function due to repeated head trauma/concussions) issues and what the means to the future of football?
There's obviously been a lot of coverage over the last five years about a spate of former players who have killed themselves due to CTE - often by shooting themselves in the chest to preserve their brains for physical study. The latest case was Aaron Hernandez who killed himself at 27, but showed CTE symptoms more likely to be found in a 60-year old. This raises the specter the disease may advance more quickly, and at earlier ages, than initially thought.
The degree to which the CTE issue will affect the game is still uncertain. Both college and the NFL have instituted rules to penalize targeting of and leading with the head. While that's noble, it's not likely to lead to a dramatic reduction in head trauma: you might have two or three plays a game where someone gets drilled in the brain case, and the rules should help mitigate that damage; but it's the repeated shots, play after play, by offensive and defensive linemen, running backs and linebackers that take a toll over the long term.
And there's the rub. You can't penalize linemen for using their heads - getting your helmet into a defensive player is literally how you're supposed block certain plays. So to decrease the long term brain damage to these players, you're going to need to fundamentally change the way the game is played. Will football change to a 7-7 format? Or return to the days of leather helmets instead of outfitting ultra-athletes with body armor? Given the increasing coverage - and the scale of the issue itself - it's hard not to see the NFL and other organizing bodies, including the NCAA, make significant changes to the game in the next five to ten years. I mean, with as bad as things are now, it's not out of the realm of the imagination tackle football won't exist by 2030.
Which brings us to our beloved rodents. If we see the game materially changing over the next decade, will that help or hurt the Gophers competitive chances? I always say I'll see the Gophers in the Rose Bowl before I die, but that's predicated on me living to 90 and football still existing in 15 years. So help me God, if they kill the game the season when all of the starts are aligned for our run, I'll tear my house down and eat it piece by piece. That truly would be the most Gopher thing ever.