What a "no-tackle practice" looks, feels and sounds like.
HANOVER, New Hampshire — Violence sounds different here.
The distinctive crack of helmets colliding—encapsulated brains smashing together because tradition says they should—has been replaced by a series of mighty thuds, like a prizefighter peppering his trainer's hands with a flurry of jabs.
The thuds echo through the rolling New Hampshire hills. They ricochet off the mighty brick walls of Memorial Field, the home of Dartmouth football since 1923.
A smokestack beyond the stadium's press box exhales a small cloud of white into the dull blue sky. On its ivy-scaled exterior, this football fortress oozes nostalgia. It has withstood renovations and depressions. It's the look of the sport at its original, waning core: black and white, powerful and historic.
Inside these walls, though, the future of football is being devised in bright, vibrant colors.
With the exception of a handful of Dartmouth home games each fall, there is no longer any tackling inside Memorial Field. That's the way it's been since 2010, when Dartmouth announced it would stop tackling during practice.
The decision came without much attention or acknowledgement. It was made before Hollywood crafted a major motion picture on football's role in the deterioration of the brain and years before the NCAA cracked down on the sport's most dangerous hits.
The man behind it all, Buddy Teevens, might fool you on first appearance. As his team readies for practice, his sweatshirt with forest-green lettering, sweatpants and sunglasses all scream "coach," not "visionary." But then he starts talking football, and instead of digging into an arsenal of tired cliches, he speaks of vectors and angles, of his regular conversations with neurologists, of his vision of having his team practice against an army of robots—all equipped with Division I size and speed.
"The mad scientist," one of his assistants calls him jokingly.
No one ever questioned Teevens' goal of improving the safety of his players, but neither did he get much credit for it before they started winning big, before last year's Ivy League title and before they finished with the nation's No. 1 defense.
People care now, because quite frankly it's becoming hard to ignore. With nearly every metric and statistic working in its favor—albeit in an evolving sample size—Dartmouth is posing a question that could ultimately rock the sport's very foundation:
What if a safer way to play football is also a better way to teach football?
The Ivy League this spring unanimously agreed to follow Dartmouth’s lead and ban tackling at practice during the regular season. Dartmouth, of course, pitched the idea. It was greeted with zero pushback. Now, it's a matter of who's next.
"Some people have said that I am against football. No, I'm not. It's my profession," Teevens says. "I just want to make sure it's around for a while.
"The game is changing, and we as coaches need to drive the change."Full Story