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Ivy League Moves to Eliminate Tackling at Football Practices

Mar 02, 2016   |   by Ken Belson   |   The New York Times

Dartmouth MVP
Dartmouth football players practiced tackling with the team’s "mobile virtual player," a device [designed by Dartmouth engineering students] that simulates an opponent’s size and movements, last August. Credit Jim Cole/Associated Press

Ivy League football coaches have decided to take the extraordinary step of eliminating all full-contact hitting from practices during the regular season, the most aggressive measure yet to combat growing concerns about brain trauma and other injuries in the sport.

The move could influence how other football programs, from the youth level to the professionals, try to mitigate the physical toll of football, which has been played on Ivy League campuses since the 19th century.

The eight Ivy League coaches unanimously approved the measure last week. Their decision is expected to be adopted formally once it is affirmed by the league’s athletic directors, policy committee and university presidents. The new rule would be in addition to the Ivy League’s existing limits on the amount of full contact in practice during the spring and preseason, which are among the most stringent in collegiate football...

...The Ivy League’s new rule was inspired by one of its members, Dartmouth, where full-contact practices throughout the year were eliminated by Coach Buddy Teevens starting in 2010 to reduce injuries, including concussions, that kept players out of games and wore them down over the course of a season.

At first, some players and coaches worried that they would lose their competitive fire, Mr. Teevens said. Instead of hitting other players in practice, Dartmouth players hit pads and tackling dummies, including a specially designed “mobile virtual player” that moves across the field the way a player would.

“At this stage in their careers, these guys know how to hit and take a hit,” Mr. Teevens said in a phone interview. “People look at it and say we’re nuts. But it’s kept my guys healthy.”

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