The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the National Football League (NFL) have announced a first-ever partnership aimed at promoting the growth, understanding and support for football at the high school level.
As a part of the partnership funded by the NFL, the NFHS will work to develop and execute a strategic plan with the primary objective of promoting high school football.
A major focus of the NFHS-NFL partnership will involve surveying of state high school association administrators, high school student-athletes, parents, coaches and officials with regard to their experiences in football and the benefits of participation. The NFHS will be working with UpMetrics on various survey instruments as a part of the arrangement.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the NFHS and the NFL to work together to help ensure the long-term viability of high school football,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS executive director. “We are appreciative of the NFL’s commitment to helping us provide educational resources and messaging about the benefits of high school football. The timing could not be better as many high school and NFL teams begin their seasons during these challenging times. This partnership provides much hope for the future of the sport in the years ahead.”
While boys participation in 11-player football has exceeded one million participants every year since 1999 and remains overwhelmingly the most popular boys sport, there have been concerns about slight declines in past years. Through this partnership, the NFHS and NFL hope to better understand participation trends, identify areas for potential educational emphasis, and restore confidence on the part of all stakeholders that the sport is, in fact, more focused on risk minimization than ever before.
On September 30, the NFHS held a joint media webinar with the NFL to further discuss the new partnership. There, Niehoff expanded on the culmination of events that led to the founding of the partnership.
“Several years ago, we saw the energy around very legitimate concussion concerns increase due to data coming from research into head injuries,” Niehoff said. “We had to pay attention and collaborate with other organizations to look at better ways to implement research and educational programs for all stakeholders in the sport.”
While football participation numbers had a slight decline in the years that followed, there was simultaneously an increase in the number of programs. Niehoff said those numbers needed to be explored beyond information disseminated by the participation survey. “We wanted to go right to the students playing,” Niehoff added.
“We wanted to learn from the parents who support their kids, as well as the coaches, the officials and the athletic directors to try to get a better sense of these dynamics around the sport of football.”
Nearly three years ago, the NFHS and its membership leaders convened meetings to further address the issue. It was then regular discussions with the NCAA, NFL, former coaches and players, and other leading groups escalated to determine best collective advocacy practices for high school football. From those meetings came a recognition in the value of employing the NFL’s expertise, visibility and ongoing educational contributions, Niehoff said.
Roman Oben, NFL Vice President, Strategy and Development, Youth and High School Football, emerged as one of the partnership’s central figures.
“This partnership champions the preservation and growth of high school football by reinforcing the life-changing values unique to the game,” said Oben. “The NFHS and NFL will work together to promote player protection best practices and emphasize that high school football equips young people for success both in the classroom and in life by inspiring character, leadership, resilience, teamwork and other vital transferable life skills.”
Oben joined Niehoff and former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington for the September media webinar. In addition to expanding on the partnership’s importance, Oben discussed how the NFL Play Football Initiative currently engages the markets of the 32 teams to “grow the game and celebrate youth in the high school football community.”
“I think we live in a time where we have to now promote the values of participation and really give kids a why,” Oben added. “For me, as a leader in this space, I’m excited for how far we’ve come, but we still have a long way to go. We’re really happy with how we’ve used this period to better educate people about resources and how the game is progressing. If anyone has a boy or girl from five to ten years old, and they’re really on the fence about their child playing, it’s good to educate yourself on where the game is going, and we’re using our resources to give them that.”
One of the chief tasks of the partnership is to identify, inform and educate participants, partners, associations, government and media around the benefits and values of participating in high school football. To help achieve this task, which is a part of the strategic plan for promoting high school football, the NFHS will engage a Senior Consultant for High School Football Promotion.
Through the Senior Consultant, there will be efforts to expand visibility and reach of interscholastic football participation, develop key messaging around high school football best practices and player protection efforts, manage opportunities that impact the growth and reputation of high school football, and collaborate with other organizations in the high school football community.
Cody Porter is the manager of media relations in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.