Last week, the Ivy League became the first NCAA conference to ban full-contact hitting in football practices during the regular season after all eight head coaches unanimously agreed to the change, as reported by the New York Times.
However, the initiative is not yet a formal policy. Yale Director of Sports Publicity Steve Conn said that although head coaches discussed the concept of eliminating tackling in practices at meetings last week, it must still be approved by athletic directors, the policy committee and university presidents before it can be enacted.
“We have an opportunity to be leaders in safety of this great game,” Yale football head coach Tony Reno said. “The game was started here [at Yale] and anything we can do to improve the game and the safety of the people who play it is great.”
The move comes at a time when collegiate programs and professional football organizations are taking steps to address the risk that traumatic head injuries pose to current and former players. Over the last decade, ongoing research has linked repeated blows to the head to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. Governing bodies such as the NCAA and NFL have taken steps to limit the amount of contact occurring in nongame situations.
This is not the first time that Ivy League football has decided to enact more stringent safety standards: in 2011, the conference decided to decrease the number of full-contact practices to two per week during the season, compared to the NCAA’s maximum of five at the time.
Reno said over the next few months, the coaches’ decision will go to the athletic directors. At some point in the late spring or early summer, it will go to university presidents for approval.
“All aspects of the proposal will be reviewed,” Yale Director of Athletics Tom Beckett told the News. “I personally believe this is an important step for the Ivy League to take. I applaud the Ivy League head football coaches for their leadership on this matter.”
Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin also said he supported the measure, given that it can help reduce the risk of concussions and keep students safe and healthy.
The new rule will necessitate a “minor change” for Yale football’s training, Reno said. Last season, the team limited itself to 10 to 15 minutes of full-contact practice each week during the regular season, a move which Reno said limited the number of concussions in practice.
Current captain and linebacker Darius Manora ’17 said this will not have a major impact on the team, and that the decision is part of an evolution of the game.
“Since I’ve been at Yale, we have very rarely tackled during practices so there will be no major changes with our practices,” Manora wrote in a message to the News. “I think the game of football at every level has already been transitioning toward not tackling during practices, as well as making several other changes in how the game is played in order to reduce injuries.”
The coaching staff has been researching better ways to teach tackling for the last few years, Reno said. The focus has been on teaching athletes to lead with their shoulders, as opposed to their heads, and the team has been exploring new methods and devices to teach tackling.
Dartmouth, one of the earliest advocates for restricting the amount of contact in practice, has improved its league standing four seasons in a row even after head coach Buddy Teevens eliminated full-contact practices in 2010. This past season, in which the Big Green won a share of the Ivy League title, Teevens unveiled the MVP, or Mobile Virtual Player — a remotely controlled, 150-pound tackling dummy with which players could practice tackling.
“Concussive head injuries [are a] huge concern, and we can eliminate a good percentage of them,” Teevens said during an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in October 2015. “We’ve [had an] 80 percent injury reduction, just going to nontackling situations … most concussions occur in practice, more so than in games.”
The MVP, which Colbert described as “huggably plush,” was developed by an engineering team that included former Big Green defensive lineman Elliott Kastner.
Teevens denied that the MVP’s implementation represents, as Colbert jokingly put it, “the wussification of the American sportscape.”
“No,” Teevens said. “We’re making [players] smarter.”