Ivy League schools tackling concerns over concussions with rules changes

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (WHDH) - As football teams, players, and coaches learn how to deal with the issue of concussions, Ivy League schools are tackling concerns over what brain injuries mean for football.

A recently released study has found that moving kickoffs up just 5 yards is leading to far fewer concussions in Ivy League football games.

“Bravo to the Ivy League,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon at Emerson Hospital. “And let’s hope that the NCAA takes notice of this.”

Ivy League researchers crunched the numbers before the rules change, and a co-author of the newly released report says the results were surprising.

“It was striking that the 22 percent or so of concussions were coming from kickoff plays, but they represented only 6 percent of plays in a game,” said Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, the deputy executive director of the Ivy League.

In 2016, Ivy League teams like Harvard and Yale began moving up kickoffs 5 yards, to the 40-yard line. Some teams in the Big Ten are now participating as well. The study found that over the past two years, the average concussion rate dropped from 11 per 1,000 kickoffs to only two.

That’s compared to the previous three seasons when kickoffs happened at the 35-yard line.

Cantu consults with the NFL and notes that pro football made a similar change on kickoffs and has even discussed eliminating them entirely.

“I think we’re getting very close to getting targeted hits to the head out of the game,” Cantu said.

Ivy League teams are reducing heavy contact in practices, too. The assistant athletic director in charge of trainers at Harvard, Brant Berkstresser, says he’s seeing far fewer concussions on his team.

“For now football is in the safest shape it’s been,” said Berkstresser. But we’ll continue to monitor what we get from a science standpoint.

Coaches so far have been fine with the changes, saying athletes are better protected. And Dartmouth’s head coach says he’s eliminated tackling at practices and scrimmages, saying his team practices tackling with dummies and robots.

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