Ask Athletic Director Grace Calhoun to talk broadly about Penn Athletics and somewhere along the way, you’ll almost certainly hear the phrase “pure student-athlete.”
This idea manifests itself in myriad ways — to Calhoun, the pure student-athlete balances sports with the player’s primary focus on academics — and means that concerns about the physical and mental health of Penn’s student-athletes are purportedly paramount. And the March vote by the eight Ivy League football coaches to end tackling at in-season practices is an example of that philosophy in action.
Although many college administrators and coaches pay lip service to this idea of holistic student-athlete wellbeing, when it comes down to making the decisions to live up to what they say, the results tends to be underwhelming.
Pending this summer’s vote from the Ivy League presidents to approve the ban on tackling at in-season football practices, however, the Ivy League is putting its money where its mouth is. With the endorsement of the league’s eight coaches virtually guaranteeing the rule’s passage, the Ancient Eight is about to make a bold — and positive — decision.
When I first heard the news of the tackling ban, I wasn’t sure I had read the article correctly. And based on reactions to the Daily Pennsylvanian’s reporting on the decision, many people in the Penn community and beyond felt the same way.
But let’s be realistic. We’re never going to see more tackling added to football practices. Programs have been limiting hitting, and that trend is only going to continue. And as more research comes out about the detriments of concussions in athletics and more cases of CTE are made public, the movement to make football safer is only going to gather steam.
Ivy League teams already only hit twice weekly once the season starts, and there will still be the chance to get some of the rust off in preseason practices before the in-season tackling ban takes effect.
“All these kids that we’re playing with have been playing football their whole life,” junior linebacker Donald Panciello said after Sunday’s Spring Game. “If you don’t know how to tackle by now, I guess you’ve got to figure it out.”
Panciello’s comment hits the nail right on the head. Division I college players know how to tackle.
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens has long made this cause his hallmark crusade, unilaterally banning in-season tackling in 2010. And it didn’t go unnoticed. I can’t think of any other way anything relating to Dartmouth football would get airtime with Stephen Colbert.
The Big Green’s share of the 2015 Ivy title is proof-positive that teams can compete without hitting during practice.
After news broke of the decision, Penn coach Ray Priore pointed out that the team had already transitioned to teach a more rugby-style of tackling. The cessation of tackling seemed like the logical next step.
Shortly after the tackling ban was announced I asked an old teammate of mine from high school who plays football at a Division III college what he thought of the changes.
He was incredulous, and his initial knee-jerk reaction was similar to mine. Banning tackling seemed a ridiculous proposition. But after a minute of consideration, he offered another thought.
“You know, I guess we only hit about once a week during the season anyway,” he said.
With the landmark change to football practices, the Ivy League is putting itself on the right side of history.
Time and again, I’ve heard Calhoun argue that Penn and the Ivy League pride themselves on being innovators in the world of college athletics. Maybe that claim isn’t that far off the mark.
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