Ivy League Moves Toward Tackle-Free Football Practices

All eight coaches support a rule that would eliminate full-contact regular-season practices.

As discussion of the dangers of concussions reaches a fever pitch, the Ivy League may be banning tackling from its regular-season football practices.

Dartmouth College did away with full-contact practices way back in 2010, but the strategy was unanimously approved by coaches from all eight schools—Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, UPenn, Princeton, and Yale—last week. The rule will be vetted next by school athletic directors; if all parties are on board, it will be submitted for final approval in June.

The move comes amidst a mounting number of ex-NFL players being posthumously diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease CTE, a condition thought to be caused by concussions and other brain injuries characteristic of contact sports.

Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston University School of Medicine’s CTE research center, told the New York Times that research “shows that you not only have fewer subconcussive hits, but also concussions” when you limit contact in practices. “It’s not rocket science.”

The NFL—a league that has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to prevent and properly treat concussions among its players—also restricts full-contact practices, capping them at 14 during the 18-week regular season. Limiting tackling during practices, however, is especially important for younger players. According to the group Practice Like Pros, only 3 percent of concussive hits in the NFL occur during practice, but that number jumps to 60 to 75 percent for high school teams.

Further, some studies have suggested that individuals who begin playing tackle football earlier in life are more likely to develop brain damage later on.

As for concerns that no-tackle practices will make teams less successful on the field? Take a look at early adopter Dartmouth, which has finished third, second, and tied for first in its conference over the last three seasons.

“It hasn’t hurt our level of play,” coach Buddy Stevens told the Times. “It’s actually made us a better team.”