(STATS) - Preseason college football practices opened across the country in recent weeks to increased safety due to the elimination of multiple practices with contact during a single day - the two-a-days.
Such mentality fell into line with some of the measures previously taken by the Ivy League.
With their league at the forefront of trying to reduce concussions and keep student-athletes healthy, Ivy coaches reflected on some of the changes Tuesday during a preseason conference call to preview their upcoming season.
Princeton and Harvard were installed as the preseason co-favorites in a close media vote over Penn. Harvard coach Tim Murphy said the Quakers were too low considering they're a two-time defending Ivy champion, sharing the 2015 title with his Crimson and last year's title with Princeton.
The tie atop the poll was the first since 2008 and the third all-time. Yale was picked fourth followed by Dartmouth, Brown (one first-place vote), Columbia and Cornell.
Coaches lauded the level of play in the league, especially veteran coaches such as Murphy, Brown's Phil Estes and Columbia's Al Bagnoli. The rise could be impacted by the emphasis on keeping players healthy.
"Most guys 25 years or older, they had never had that mind-set back when we played. You did what you were coached to do and you taught what you learned when you were a player. Nothing had changed for a long period of time," said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, acknowledged as the league's chief driving force for implementing safety measures. "Certainly with technology and some of the concerns with compression head injury, TBI (traumatic brain injury), growing awareness, we can do things in a different fashion. What I'm finding right now is there's a greater receptivity."
The Ivy League formally eliminated "live" to-the-ground tackling in practices during the regular season last year, continuing to address safety measures alongside the Xs and Os. In addition, league members moved kickoffs to the 40-yard line and touchbacks to the 20-yard line in an effort to limit returns and the possibility of concussions from one of football's more dangerous plays. Two-a-days also had been scaled back in the preseason.
"I think that the rule changes that we made in the league have given us an opportunity to keep the players safe and also decrease the high collisions on special teams, especially on the kickoff game. It's really made the game better," Yale coach Tony Reno said.
Added Penn coach Ray Priore, "How you teach tackling has changed. We used to put the helmet on the ball to cause fumbles; now it's on the back hip in the rugby style. It's changed in that facet, how we as coaches have to re-look at the teaching of some of those mechanisms. I think some of the rules are spot-on with what we want to do without changing the integrity of the game."
The Ivy League has been reviewing concussions since 2010, moving from football to a number of other sports such as lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer, wrestling and rugby.
Safety measures go beyond concussions as well. Cornell coach David Archer notes the risk of knee and leg injuries are down because players aren't being driven to the ground in practice.
Dartmouth has been especially active, developing a robotic tackling dummy, called the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP), to simulate live tackling in an effective and realistic way. The product was unveiled in 2015, nearly five years after coach Teevens instituted a no-tackling policy in practice to keep more players healthy.
Said Priore: "You could see based on the lack of injuries that were reported at the end of the year that … being a successful football team is how healthy you can you stay. I think all these measures go into helping us stay healthy."
KEY IVY LEAGUE GAMES=
Penn at Harvard (Nov. 11) - The last 10 Ivy League titles have included one or both of these powers. Expect the streak to continue in 2017.
Five More: Yale at Dartmouth (Oct. 7); Penn at Columbia (Oct. 14); Princeton at Harvard (Oct. 21); Princeton at Penn (Nov. 4); Harvard at Yale (Nov. 18)
IVY LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL=
1. (tie) Princeton (6 first-place votes), 120 points
1. (tie) Harvard (5), 120
3. Penn (5), 110
4. Yale, 71
5. Dartmouth, 60
6. Brown (1), 57
7. Columbia, 38
8. Cornell, 36