Ivy League coaches vote to eliminate tackling in practices

Harvard quarterback Conner Hempel (14) scrambles out of the pocket against Yale at Harvard Stadium Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Harvard quarterback Conner Hempel (14) scrambles out of the pocket against Yale at Harvard Stadium Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Spurred into action by increasing worries about the connection between football and brain injuries, the Ivy League has decided to remove full-contact hitting from regular season football practices.

According to the New York Times, the eight Ivy League football coaches voted for the move unanimously and is expected to be formally adopted “once it is affirmed by the league’s athletic directors, policy committee and university presidents.” The league already had limits in place to scale back contact during preseason and spring practices.

Dartmouth eliminated full-contact practices in 2010 in order to cut down on injuries. On top of that, the school developed a mobile tackling dummy called the “Mobile Virtual Player,” or MVP for short, for use during practice. Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens told NPR in August that the MVP is controlled with a remote from the sidelines.

"It can be used a running back, it can be a target for a QB — attach a net to it or a pouch and it can be a wide receiver. It can be a blocking obstacle or device for downfield blocking for a lineman," the coach said. "There's nothing that it can't do — that was one of the thoughts."

NCAA rules currently allow teams to hold full-contact practices up to four times in a single week, including once during a two-a-day session, during preseason. That number drops to two during the regular season.

Teevens, whose team won a share of the Ivy League crown in 2015, told the Times that it has kept his players healthy and has helped them even become better tacklers by emphasizing technique using the MVP.

From the Times:

“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.”

Mr. Teevens said that his restrictions on full contact in practice helped reduce the number of concussions his team sustained to just a handful each season from about 20 a year before full-contact practices were eliminated. The number of neck, back and shoulder injuries also declined noticeably, he said.

“You’d have more stuff occur because we were banging each other,” he said.

Mr. Teevens said that contrary to some fears, his players have become better tacklers. Players still tackle from 500 to 800 times a year, but instead of launching themselves at other players in practice, they focus on how they tackle to avoid head collisions. The number of missed tackles in games has fallen by more than half, he said.

“It hasn’t hurt our level of play,” he said. “It’s actually made us a better team.”

Medically, the benefits are obvious, but it remains to be seen if other conferences – and leagues – will follow the Ivy’s lead.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!