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Ivy League Moves Toward Banning Full-Contact Football Practices

All eight Ivy League head football coaches unanimously voted last week to eliminate full-contact hitting from practices during the regular season, according to Ken Belson of the New York Times, putting the conference on track to become the first to enact such a ban.

Belson reported the decision "is expected to be adopted formally once it is affirmed by the league's athletic directors, policy committee, and university presidents." Dartmouth University head football coach Buddy Teevens, who stopped allowing full-contact practices in 2010, helped inspire the proposed change, according to Belson.

Five years ago, the conference reduced the number of full-contact practices football teams were allowed to conduct in a given week during the regular season, dropping from five—the number the National Collegiate Athletic Association permitted at the time—to two. It also prohibited football coaches from conducting more than one full-contact workout during preseason two-a-day practices, paving the road for other conferences to eventually follow suit. (The Pac-12 Conference did just that in 2013.)

In 2014, the NCAA and the College Athletic Trainers' Society released new guidelines recommending no more than two live-contact football practices per week during the regular season, postseason, and bowl season, although the association stopped short of making that a mandate. Last summer, a study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery suggested college football players were being placed at unnecessary risk because the NCAA had yet to establish a limit on the number of permissible full-contact practices per week. According to that study, college football players endured a mean of 2.3 head impacts during helmet-only practices compared to 16.8 in full-pad practices and 24.2 in games.

The Ivy League's latest move to reduce head impacts in practice led USA Today's Nancy Armour to praise the conference, saying the change could "maybe even save the game." Considering the growing concern over the long-term cumulative effect of repeated sub-concussive hits—and the amount of head contact players endure during full-contact practices—the rationale behind removing full-contact tackling is certainly understandable.

Teevens told the Times that Dartmouth's ban on full-contact tackling during regular-season practices led to a sharp decline in not just concussions, but in neck, back, and shoulder injuries, too.

"You'd have more stuff occur because we were banging each other," he told the paper.

Teevens also claimed his players have become better tacklers since the ban was enacted, with the number of missed tackles in game reportedly falling by more than half. Dartmouth finished third, second, and tied for first in the conference over the past three seasons, which Teevens said drew attention to his practice methods.

Three years after the Ivy League enacted its limit on full-contact football practices, California followed suit, prohibiting high school and middle school coaches from conducting more than two per week during the preseason and regular season. Other states and state athletic associations have either enacted or weighed similar restrictions in recent years, including the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which adopted a policy change last summer that restricted football players to no more than 60 minutes of full-contact practices per week during the regular season.

In all likelihood, it will take years for states and high school athletic associations to follow suit with an all-out ban on full-contact football practices, even if the Ivy League does follow through with it. If the conference can compile data showing a reduction in injuries (both head-related and to necks, shoulders and backs) and a decrease in the number of missed tackles, however, the case for not following the Ivy League's lead will become increasingly weaker.

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