March 1, 2016 / 9:10 PM / in a year

Ivy League mulls banning tackles at football practices

Harvard University football players stand for the national anthem in Allston, Massachusetts, November 2014.Brian Snyder

BOSTON (Reuters) - Football practices at the United States' elite Ivy League universities may be a little bit quieter next year as coaches consider banning tackling outside of actual games, a spokesman for the league said on Tuesday.

Top football coaches at elite universities including Harvard, Yale and Princeton, are mulling the move as concerns grow that head injuries can take a severe toll on players' mental acuity as they age.

"This is something that has only been discussed and is not approved in any way," said Scottie Rodgers, a spokesman for the eight-school conference, which also includes Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania.

He noted that rule changes in the league are formally put forward by school athletics directors at annual meetings that take place in May and submitted for final approval in June.

The league's coaches agreed to the move in a vote last week, the New York Times reported earlier on Tuesday.

Research has increasingly linked the head injuries that are commonly experienced in football, hockey and other contact sports with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition that causes lesions on the brain and can lead to aggression and dementia later in life.

There are currently no tests to diagnose CTE in a living patient, but Boston University researchers have found evidence of the condition in the brains of 90 of 94 former National Football League players it has studied since 2008.

One leader of the effort to limit college players' concussion risks is Dartmouth College's head football coach, Buddy Teevens, who last season introduced a robot tackling dummy developed by engineering students at the Hanover, New Hampshire, school.

The motorized dummy, called the "Mobile Virtual Player" is the approximate size and weight of a college football player, and allowed Dartmouth's players to practice full-speed hits while limiting the risk of injury.

Some 5,000 former players have sued the NFL, claiming it hid the dangers of repeated head trauma, and agreed to a settlement that could cost the league $1 billion. The settlement is under appeal.

Research on CTE has already prompted the NFL to ban the most dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits and require teams to keep players who have taken hits to the head off the field if they show symptoms including dizziness or memory gaps.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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