Ivy League set to limit full-contact workouts
NEWARK, N.J. — In an effort to reduce the number of concussions and subconcussive hits, Ivy League football teams will be allowed to have just two full-contact practices a week, three less than the NCAA allows.
The league announced Wednesday that the presidents of its eight schools have accepted a series of recommendations made by a special committee that put the Ivy League in a leadership role in trying to limit concussive hits in football.
The recommendations, which will take effect this season, also limit contact workouts to one during preseason two-a-day workouts. The league also will put further emphasis on educating student-athletes on proper tackling technique, the signs and symptoms of concussion, and the potential short-and long-term ramifications of repetitive brain trauma.
The league also told players there will be more stringent postgame league review of helmet-to-helmet and targeted hits, including the suspension of players.
“The presidents formed the committee, because they were deeply concerned that concussions are a significant injury in football,” Ivy League executive director Robin Harris said, “and wanted the Ivy League to take an active leadership role in developing steps and measures to limit concussions, first in football and then in other sports as appropriate.”
The New York Times first reported the story Wednesday.
The committee was co-chaired by Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim and Cornell President David J. Skorton, both medical doctors. The committee also included various league football coaches, administrators, expert consultants, team physicians, and athletic trainers.
Al Bagnoli of Penn, the dean of Ivy League coaches, was a member of the committee.
“We just tried to look at reasonable ways to help the concussion issue,” Bagnoli said in a telephone interview, “without necessarily changing the way football is played or changing the quality of the product.”
While the committee’s recommendations focus solely on football, the Ivy League will next conduct similar reviews of men’s and women’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s soccer.
Princeton coach Bob Surace said the new rules would not cause him to change much, noting he usually had two full-contact practices a week and didn’t have two contact sessions during two-a-days in the preseason.
“Whenever there are rule changes to benefit player safety, as coaches, you adjust and adapt,” Surace said in a telephone interview. “There will be a minimal change for us and I am kind of happy everybody is doing the same thing. It benefits player safety.”
Bagnoli said his team varied the number of its practices per week with the average being about three.
The Ivy League also took away one full-contact practice from spring workouts and reduced the number of days that pads can be worn during both sessions of preseason two-a-days to one.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the rules would work in the SEC, which has produced the last five national champions.
“That’s about what we do, to tell you the truth,” Spurrier said during the league’s Media Days. “To me, it doesn’t make any sense to get your own players hurt in practice. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
The committee also found that research suggests that concussions not only have acute consequences, but also more long-term aftereffects. The multiple hits sustained in football, as distinct from those causing concussion, may have a role in the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in some individuals.
“Given the lack of data regarding the number or type of hits that may cause long-term consequences in certain individuals, the committee concluded that it is important to minimize the likelihood and severity of hits to the head,” Kim said. “Based on current and available data, we have taken appropriate steps to help ensure the safety of our football players, but as this remains an evolving area of study, future research must be monitored, and our recommendations could then be revisited and revised.”
Skorton said student-athletes need to recognize symptoms of concussion in themselves and their teammates, understand the severity of such injuries and the need to relay that information to medical personnel.
“Our goal is to emphasize that a concussion is a serious injury that requires immediate and proper treatment,” Skorton said, “including physical and cognitive rest, to promote healing.”
Surace said the coaches were kept abreast of the committee discussions and were not blindsided by the new rules. He also said he was impressed by the fair play in the league last season, noting there were only a few head-to-head hits that were brought to the league’s attention.
“Our guys have been able to avoid the bad hits, the targeted hits for the most part,” Surace said. “Sometimes there are bang-bang plays. I think very few are intentional but we have confidence they will be able to determine when they are.”