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Ivy League Football Completes First Season Under New Concussion Prevention Rules

Rule limiting full-contact practices to 2 a week should be adopted at high school and youth level, says Penn's Laudano

New rules adopted by the Ivy League for the 2011 football season were designed to lower the risk of concussion and brain injury among its student-athletes, including a reduction in the number of full-contact, in-season practices to two per week. 

Formed in December 2010 to determine how the Ivy League could take a leadership role in trying to limit concussive hits in football, the committee was co-chaired by Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim and Cornell President David J. Skorton, both medical doctors, and counted among its members various Ivy League head football coaches, administrators, expert consultants, team physicians, and athletic trainers, including Eric Laudano, M.H.S., A.T.C., head athletic trainer at the University of Pennsylvania and MomsTeam expert.

New rules

The new rules, which were in effect for the fall 2011 season, included the following:

  • Practice Limitations:
    • In-Season: Limit of two full-contact practices per week (a 60% reduction from the NCAA limit of 5 per week).  During the remaining days there may be no full-contact practices or live tackles and no player may be "taken to the ground."  No full pads, including kneepads will be allowed, but helmets, uppers, girdles and thigh pads will be permissible for safety reasons;
    • Spring practice: A 12% (one practice) reduction in the number of allowable full-contact practices in the spring (a 42% reduction from the NCAA limit)
    • Preseason: Limit of one day on which pads can be worn during both sessions of two-a-days during preseason
  • Games:
    • Continued instruction to officials to err on the side of caution by calling penalties if a helmet or head hit might have occurred.  The Ivy League Executive Director conducted a more stringent video review of helmet-to-helmet and targeted hits than the previous two seasons with the goal of imposing appropriate sanctions for flagrant hits, including suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits deemed intentional.
  • Education:
    • Continued education of student-athletes on signs and symptoms of concussion, emphasis of potential long-term risks of repetitive brain trauma and need to report and not play with any symptoms of concussion.
    • Continued emphasis and enhancement of teaching proper football fundamentals and technique to avoid leading with head, including a de-emphasis of hits on defenseless players.
    • Annual team viewing of NFL and NCAA educational videos regarding concussion and NCAA videos of specific examples of legal and illegal football hits.
    • Additional, annual team in-person educational session between student-athletes and individuals with personal knowledge about concussions (e.g. former athletes, researchers, athletic trainers, team physicians).
  • Diagnosing Injury as Preventative Tool
    • Improving the recognition of injury and the evaluation process and using other diagnostic tools, such as the King-Devick test, to accurately evaluate and diagnose concussions as a way of improving outcomes. 
  •  Recovery process
    • Communication by Ivy League presidents with appropriate deans on their campuses to ensure that they are aware of the importance of cognitive rest as a serious and critical part of the recovery process, and the need to make appropriate academic accomodations for the timeframe specified by the treating physician for student-athletes diagnosed with concussions.
    • Adherance to specific return-to-play guidelines developed by Ivy League's athletic trainers and team physicians incorporating NCAA best practices
  • Other sports
    • Consider what changes or recommendations might be needed to address the risk of concussion in men's and women's ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer.

Taking leadership role

"The presidents formed the committee because they were deeply concerned that concussions are a significant injury in football 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," said Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris.

The committee reviewed and discussed data and research regarding concussions and head hits in football, and also looked at current NCAA and Ivy League rules and practices.

The available research suggests that concussions not only have acute consequences but also more long-term sequelae. The multiple hits sustained in football, as distinct from those causing concussion, may have a role in the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in some individuals.

"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," continued Harris.

"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," said Dartmouth President Kim. "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."

With respect to the need for continuing education, President Skorton of Cornell stated, "It is important for our student-athletes to not only recognize symptoms of concussion in themselves and their teammates but to also 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, including physical and cognitive rest, to promote healing."

High school and youth football: should they follow suit?

"These are groundbreaking measures taken by the Ivy League and we are proud to be trailblazers on such a serious and important topic as concussions," said Penn's Laudano. "This is once again proof that the Ivy League takes concussion education and concussion management extremely seriously and we are always looking at ways to be pro-active in managing the health and wellness of our student-athletes. We have some of the brightest young minds in the world playing sport at the highest level and we have the best medical care at each of our institutions to provide cutting edge medical care to our student-athletes. These guidelines provide pro-active measurements to ensure the safety of our student-athletes are at the forefront."  

While definitive data is not yet available, Laudano said he believes implementation of the new rules resulted in few concussions during Ivy football this past fall.  

Are these rules worth adopting at the high school and youth level as well?  Laudano believes they are. "I think any time a rule is put into effect at any level concerning the number of hits or practices with contact, it should be adopted at all levels. Anything [that can be done] to reduce the number of hits to the head is only going to benefit the athlete and may reduce the chances of a head injury or concussion."


Source: The Ivy League.  For a pdf of the full report, click here.

Posted July 26, 2011; updated December 27, 2011

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