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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – An experimental rule change in the Ivy League has resulted in fewer concussions as there are safety changes being made all across football.
New research from the University of Pennsylvania focused on kickoffs, often considered the most dangerous play in football. It showed there is a way to reduce injuries.
Penn football coach Ray Priore says kickoff returns are especially dangerous, with opposing teams running full steam into each other.
Research shows 21 percent of Ivy League football concussions came from kickoff returns.
“Two people colliding in mid-span speed, the velocity, the impact is that much more violent on a kickoff,” said Priore.
Two years ago, as an experiment, the kickoff line in Ivy League football was moved five yards from the 35-yard line.
The move has more kickoffs now going through the end zone, reducing the number of returns.
Instead, the receiving player puts his knee down for a touchback.
“By increasing the likelihood that touchbacks would occur it gave a chance to have fewer concussions,” said Douglas J. Wiebe, a professor of epidemiology in biostatistics, epidemiology, and informatics.
Penn epidemiologist Douglas Webb led the two-year study that covered eight Ivy League universities with the kickoff line moved.
“There was a really strong reduction in the rate of concussions during kickoff returns,” said Wiebe. “By increasing the likelihood that touchbacks would occur, it gave a chance to have fewer concussions.”
The research showed that the average concussion rate linked to kickoffs plummeted.
“It will never be totally safe but we can make it safer and this is one of those things,” said Priore. “We feel it has worked very well, it’s reduced our numbers. Why not? It hasn’t touched the integrity of the game at all.”
Priore says he hopes the kickoff rule change becomes permanent, but it’s unclear what the NCAA will do or if it would be expanded beyond the Ivy League.