The phrase "two-a-days" used to say it all for high school football. It meant a few hellish weeks of twice-daily workouts at the hottest time of the year, a practice designed to get players in shape and to forge team unity through collective misery.
Soon, two-a-days might suffer the same fate the MTV reality show of the same name did: canceled. Four states known for their devotion to high school football — Alabama; Texas; Florida; and Georgia — barred back-to-back two-a-days this year, joining North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, Arkansas and Arizona as states limiting two-a-days.
By limiting two-a-days and adding other heat acclimatization procedures, state high school associations are looking to cut down on a rise of heat-related deaths.
According to the American Football Coaches Association's annual football injury survey, in the 35 years from 1960 to 1995, there were 81 football-related heat stroke cases that resulted in death. In the next 16 years, 1995 through 2011, there were 51, including 40 in high school.
"Last year, there was a 12-day stretch that we probably had the most number of heat-related football deaths we were ever aware of," said Douglas Casa, a professor of kinesiology and CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. "I definitely think those deaths forced a lot of states' hands. Obviously having big-time football states adopt (National Athletic Trainers' Association) guidelines
The first three days this week, the high for DeSoto, Texas, topped 100 degrees. DeSoto coach Claude Mathis said he's adapting to the more stringent guidelines.
"Because of the new rules, we had to walk through our offense, not run through it," Mathis said. "We were already making changes to how we did things because we saw last year they were starting to go this route.
Martin (Arlington, Texas) coach Bob Wager said football is such a year-round activity in his state that cutting down two-a-days makes little difference.
"They allow us, if we choose to go to single practices, a three-hour block of time," he said. "In my opinion, that's plenty of time. After a while, you reach a point of diminishing returns when players lose the ability to learn because they're just trying to survive."
Like most northern states, Ohio doesn't allow spring football, one reason Xavier (Cincinnati) coach Steve Specht is glad he can still have consecutive two-a-days.
"We had two weeks this year of hard doubles," he said. "That hasn't changed. What has changed for us is when we practice, we try to get a good solid day's work in but still beat the heat of the day. This game of football is hard. Double sessions are a part of that difficult journey."
While South Carolina didn't prohibit back-to-back two-a-days, it put in a regulation this year that trimmed practice times.
Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) coach Chris Miller said he's tried to offset the lack of practice time in other ways. His Rebels are No. 5 in the USA TODAY Super 25 preseason rankings.
"We're not out there to kill them in two-a-days — it's just trying to work on all the little things, blocking and tackling," he said. "We're spending a lot more time indoors now working on the mental side."
Harry Welch, coach at No. 2-ranked Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), recently spent six consecutive days of twice-daily practices. The team plays under CIF Southern Section rules that stipulate a school has only 25 practice opportunities before its first game and non-school days count as two opportunities whether a school practices or not.
"It's backward, but I'm almost required to practice twice a day to get them ready under those rules," Welch said. "I don't care for two-a-days. It's healthier for them to practice one day and absorb what they've learned."