Did Ivy League football find the key to reducing concussions?
Experts and sports organizations have been looking everywhere for a way to significantly decrease the number of concussions in football, to little success. However, a small change to how Ivy League football teams play the game may just be the secret to making the game drastically safer for athletes.
A study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says that two simple rule changes related to kickoffs that significantly reduce concussion rates in the league beginning in 2016.
Starting that year, the league introduced two rule changes with approval from the NCAA which moved kickoffs five yards closer and shifted the line for touchbacks five yards forward.
Several studies have shown that kickoffs are one of the most dangerous types of plays for concussions, accounting for 23.4% of head injuries in the game despite only representing 5.8% of total plays.
By moving the kickoff line from the 35-yard line to the 40 and touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25, the league made it more likely for kicks to land in the end zone or for receiving teams to decline to return. That, in turn, reduced the number of collisions in kickoff plays, which decreased the number of overall concussions.
These small changes increased the rate of touchbacks from 18% to nearly 50%.
The study, led by the director of the Penn Injury Science Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Douglas Weibe, showed that the rule changes led to a 68% reduction in concussions during kickoffs. Following the implementation, the overall rate fall from 10 concussions per 1,000 kicks to two per 1,000 kicks.
The decision to implement these changes was part of the Ivy League’s overall concussion review which started in 2010.
“We see really compelling evidence that, indeed, introducing the experimental kickoff rule seems to be associated with a large reduction in concussions,” said Weibe. “A simple yet strategic policy change helps sustain the quality of the game while making the game safer for student athletes.”
While the NCAA has not entirely followed suit, it has implemented a new rule this year inspired by the Ivy League’s changes. The rule allows all college football players to call for a fair catch on kickoffs landing up to the 25-yard line. As Sports Illustrated explains, this means fair catches between the 20- and 25-yard line will result in the ball being placed at the 25-yard line.
Previous to the study, there had been reports the NFL was considering eliminating the kickoff entirely if the plays couldn’t be made safer. Based on these findings, the league may have found the silver bullet to reducing concussions it has been looking for.