The Ivy League made headlines this week when it was announced that the conference’s eight head football coaches voted unanimously to ban full tackling during in-season practices. The proposal, which still has to be approved by the university presidents and the athletic directors of each school, is the first of its kind in the NCAA.
Yet despite the headlines, head coach David Archer ’05 said he believes not much will change in the day-to-day organization of a Cornell football in-season practice. In the three years that he’s been head coach, the team has not held a “live tackle to the ground” practice after the first game of the season.
Last year, the team limited itself to only two full-padded practices each week, some weeks having just one.
Concerns have been raised that limiting tackling in practice makes it more likely for players to tackle incorrectly in games, which could lead to more injuries. Archer sees it a little bit differently.
“I think you can simulate it without having to live tackle another human being to the ground,” Archer said. “I think you can use bags, you can use pop-up dummies, you can use drills and other things to condition to tackle the right way.”
Archer stressed even though the Ivy League was the first to begin the process to stop full tackling for in-season practices, many schools in other conferences likely already have limited amounts of tackling during the season.
Concussions and head injuries have been the topic of countless studies and articles recently. Since Bennet Omalu found abnormal amounts of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of ex-NFL players — a story popularized in the movie Concussion — player safety has become a increasingly important emphasis at all levels of football.
Since the research became public, the Ivy League has been at the forefront of concussion safety in the NCAA. The eight university presidents commissioned a committee in 2010 to evaluate concussions and player safety. Archer said that since that committee was assembled, a lot more focus has gone into tackling safety.
The proposal doesn’t directly affect the team’s preseason camp or spring practices, where Archer says live tackling will still occur.
“We do have restrictions on how much live tackle to the ground happens in camp and spring ball,” Archer said. “We adhere to all those restrictions because the closer you get to those games, player safety is always paramount.”
Archer, a former offensive linemen for Cornell, recalls there being “a lot more” full tackling in spring and preseason practices when he attended Cornell. In the years since he’s played, live tackling has become a much smaller part of practices.
Citing Dartmouth — an Ivy co-champion this year and a team that “doesn’t hit at all’ in practice, be it in-season or preseason or spring — Archer emphasized that the lack of full contact practices doesn’t affect toughness on defense: Dartmouth had one of the top-rated defense in the FCS this past season.
“The practices that lead to player safety also lead to better football,” Archer said.