College Football Is Focusing on Player Safety | Adweek
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College Football Is Kicking Off With an Unprecedented PSA Blitz

Focus on player safety

Illustration: GlueKit

It’s one thing for futurist Malcolm Gladwell to push for killing off college football because it might damage a player’s brain—he’s a nerdy Canadian, after all. But when pro football Hall of Famer Lem Barney said this summer that America may very well “alleviate football altogether” in the next 10 to 20 years because of its increasing violence, it woke up sports commentators like a whiff of smelling salts.

Neurological health is at the heart of why the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12 conferences are set to kick off football season with an unprecedented public service announcement blitz, a campaign involving more than 50 PSAs focused on player safety.

The 30-second spots promote establishing safe tackling and blocking techniques in youth-league athletes to protect players from head injuries and other bodily harm throughout their football days. The conferences, along with the National Football League, have teamed up with nonprofit USA Football’s “Heads Up” initiative on the project.

“This is a national health issue,” said Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner. “We are trying to take the right, prudent steps to make the game safer. That means the rules committee, the game officials, the coaches, the schools and the television networks all have to collaborate.”

ESPN, Fox and networks carrying the Big Ten, Pac 12 and Big 12 games have slotted inventory for the PSAs. Every coach across the three conferences will appear in the commercials, which will run through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Appealing to younger players, the Big 12 has produced a separate, special effects-heavy PSA focused on football-related health and directing viewers to a dedicated website. “We opted to go with the style that kids are seeing in cinema and games today,” said Ken Maxwell, who devised the spot as creative director at agency LDWW. “You see the player and virtually go into his brain.”

Besides the flurry of PSAs, college football is adding stricter rules that could lead to player ejections for hits that no doubt would have been highlight-reel material in the past.

Social media chatter indicates that such changes are already unpopular with fans.

Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12 reps dismissed the notion that the PSAs are, in part, designed to convince fans to accept the new rules. Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing analyst and creative director at Baker Street Advertising, didn’t totally buy that—particularly in regard to the Big 12 spot.

“People watch football for the violence and the hits,” Dorfman said. “Penalties will be called this year that weren’t called last year. The PSAs can [communicate], ‘If you think the calls hurt the quality of play, well, we’re doing it for very logical, sound, health reasons.’ The campaign will likely dance along a fine line, but it’s definitely something that has to be done.”

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