In a long overdue move, the Premier League will begin the first trial for concussion substitutes with this weekend’s matches. This rule change, which is being done in conjunction with IFAB, is set to be in effect through at least the end of the season, but could be extended into next season as well — though hopefully a more permanent change to the rules will be implemented soon (and perhaps an ever better solution than this currently proposed one).
So what are concussion substitutes?
In this specific implementation, they are two (2) extra subs allowed for each team to make specifically for players who have suffered or suspected to have suffered a head injury or concussion. They are in addition to the three (3) “normal” substitutions that teams can make. The “normal” subs can also be used for concussion subs if needed, but not vice-versa. The league already expanded the bench to nine (9) from seven (7) some weeks back in preparation for this trial.
Where the implementation falls a bit short is that once a player is removed via a concussion sub, he cannot re-enter the match even if a (more thorough) evaluation on the sideline results in a negative diagnosis. While this certainly is the safer and more cautious approach, it disincentivizes teams from using the substitutions, it keeps the time-pressure on while doing on-pitch evaluations, and it’s not hard to see the current status quo of downplaying head injuries largely carry on.
Also, if a concussion substitute is used, the other team gets an extra “normal” substitution in the name of competitive fairness (even though this is supposed to be a medical concern above all), which could again disincentivize a team from using a concussion substitute — in effect “trading” a forced change for a voluntary change by the opponents.
If the concussion substitutions were temporary, with a chance to return if deemed safe (again, after a proper evaluation on the sidelines, not just a glance or question or two), players and teams might be much more inclined to get these head injuries properly checked out.
That said, this is a good first step from the league and the international rules board. Better than nothing. Football is well behind most other professional sports in recognizing and emphasizing the danger of head injuries, and we have plenty of catching up to do.