By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- The Ivy League took the extraordinary step to ban all player-to-player tacking at football practices. The news was reported this week by the New York Times
- The ban is designed to reduce the risk of concussion, other head injury, and other contact related injury to the neck
- On field performance at Dartmouth, whose coach Buddy Teevens instituted the ban himself in 2010, actually improved as in-game tackling improved and the team won the league last year
- My opinion: if the Ivy League collects data going forward that conclusively proves a reduction in injury then this trend will spread
In medical epidemiology, the term “exposure” can be broadly applied to any factor that may be associated with an outcome of interest. When we are discussing concussion risk, or risk of injuries to the neck and head, “exposure” essentially means how many times you could possibly be hit in the head. The thinking here is very simple: reduce the number of player-to-player tackles, and you reduce the risk of possible injury to the brain, head, and neck.
We’ve seen limitations in player contact during practices and games at the youth level, but this is the first time that it has really been undertaken at the collegiate level. If the Ivy League is able to prove over the next few years that they actually have a reduction in injuries with this new policy, I believe that policies like it could spread certainly to the high school level and possibly to other collegiate leagues as well.
There will be plenty of detractors for sure. The naysayers will state that tackling is an essential part of football and if you’re not teaching tackling during collegiate practices you’ll end up with poor tackling during games, and possibly even increase injury risk during games. There is some merit to this argument, but note that the Ivy League is not stopping tackling practice they are simply stopping player to player tackling during practice. In the New York Times article you’ll see that the Dartmouth football team uses a mobile tackling simulator to improve tackling technique for their players. (very cool video- have a look!)
For this policy to gain broader acceptance outside of the Ivy League, the league will need to do a few things over the next few years. First and foremost they will need to produce before and after data showing an actual reduction in injuries. Even though this policy makes inherent sense, that type of cause and effect data will be required if it is to gain broader acceptance. And secondly, the coaches of the teams themselves will need to be convinced that performance during games has not suffered as a result of this change in practice technique.
I have a strong feeling that these points will be proven correct. In the end fewer injuries means healthier players, and healthier players means that they stay in the game longer. And that can only be beneficial for all fans of the game.