Penn's Bagnoli supports Ivy League's limit on full-contact practices

Penn coach Al Bagnoli says the reduction in full-contact practices is based on medical studies.
Penn coach Al Bagnoli says the reduction in full-contact practices is based on medical studies. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 21, 2011

When the news broke Wednesday about the Ivy League's decision to, among other things, limit its member football teams to two full-contact practices a week, it came as no surprise to Penn coach Al Bagnoli.

That's because Bagnoli was one of three football coaches on the committee that recommended the changes in an effort to reduce the number of concussions and subconcussive hits to players. The committee was cochaired by Dartmouth president Jim Yong Kim and Cornell president David J. Skorton. Both men are medical doctors.

The presidents of the eight institutions that make up the league accepted the suggestions, which go into effect this season.

The NCAA allows up to five contact practices a week.

"We had coaches, administrators, trainers, doctors, and medical staffers, various specialists, and [the changes] summed up our thoughts coming out of the meeting," said Bagnoli, who is the winningest coach in Ancient Eight history. "What we did was based on medical studies, but we didn't want to compromise the integrity of the game or the quality of the product. It just streamlined everything."

In addition to putting a new limit on contact practices during the season, the Ivy League also dictated that only one contact practice may be held during preseason two-a-day workouts. And further emphasis will be placed on educating players on proper tackling techniques, the signs and symptoms of concussions, and the potential short-term and long-term ramifications of repetitive brain trauma.

The league also took away one full-contact practice from spring drills and reduced the number of days that pads can be worn during both sessions of two-a-days to one per week. Players will be told that there will be more comprehensive postgame reviews of helmet-to-helmet and targeted hits, which could lead to suspensions.

As for Bagnoli, the new rules won't change his life much.

"For us, it's not radically different," he said. "We vary between two, three, three-and-a half" full-contact practices per week.

Although the committee's recommendations focus solely on football, the Ivy League said it would next conduct similar reviews of men's and women's ice hockey, men's and women's lacrosse, and men's and women's soccer.

The committee also found that research suggests that concussions not only have acute consequences but also more long-term aftereffects. The multiple hits sustained in football, as distinct from those causing concussion, may have a role in the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in some individuals.

The Penn program suffered a blow in April 2010 when defensive lineman Owen Thomas committed suicide. An autopsy on the body of the 21-year-old revealed mild stages of a type of brain damage that is usually seen in retired or aging athletes and which can cause neurobehavorial disorders and abnormal behavior.


Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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