The Ivy League announced Wednesday that it would significantly limit the number of full-contact practices that football teams are allowed to hold, a decision that is intended to decrease head trauma and concussions among players.
In addition, the league announced that it will enforce much more severe punishments for helmet-to-helmet contact in games, including in-game penalties and possible suspensions for perpetrators.
Under the new guidelines, Ivy League football teams may now only hold two full-contact practices a week, well below the five that the NCAA allows. The Ivy League also announced similar restrictions for off-season and summer-time practices.
The changes were made per the recommendations of an exploratory committee—comprised mostly of university presidents, coaches, administrators, and doctors from around the Ivy League—that formed in December 2010 to look into the dangers of full-contact and full-pad practices, as well as other possible dangers during gameplay.
“Because of the seriousness of the potential consequences, the presidents determined the League needed to take proactive steps in protecting the welfare of our student-athletes,” Robin Harris, the executive director of the Ivy League, said in a statement.
The new restrictions come on the heels of an intensifying discussion about the dangers of football and the serious health repercussions of repeated impacts to players’ heads.
In April of 2010, Owen Thomas, the co-captain elect of the 2010 Penn football team, committed suicide in his home. Later autopsies showed that Thomas suffered a disease caused by significant head trauma, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian. In September, Thomas’ mother testified before Congress about a need for increased concussion safety and management.
Thomas’ death made the issue particularly pressing for the Ivy League and helped to spur the new restrictions.
Starting in the 2010 season, the NFL instituted severe penalties for in-game helmet-to-helmet hits, including fines in the tens of thousands of dollars and suspensions.
But according to a study in the Journal of Athletic Training, Division I football players are more likely to sustain hits to the head during practice than during games.
The response among Harvard football players to the new regulations was generally positive.
“As far as brain damage and concussions go, I think limited practice is a smart move, because I don’t think necessarily that it’s just the one-time hits that guys are suffering from, but just the repeated head-to-head contact,” senior quarterback Collier Winters said.
Based on the team’s current self-imposed limitations, many of the players said that the new rules would not have much of an effect on the practices, nor would it impact performance on the field.
During their time at Harvard, the team has never had more than two full-pad practices in a week, according to Winters and senior linebacker Alex Gedeon. Because the new rules won’t alter the team’s practice patterns, Harvard will still “be on-par with our non-conference opponents,” according to Winters.
“I don’t think it’ll have any effect on the level of play,” senior defensive back Matthew Hanson added. “It’s just about being smart with how we play, so not leading with our helmets is going to be a big thing.”