Bottom Line: The kickoff return in football has been associated with a substantial number of concussions because players run toward each other and there is potential for significant hits. In 2015, kickoffs accounted for 6 percent of all plays but 21 percent of concussions in the Ivy League, a Division 1 conference of eight private universities. Ivy League football coaches recommended a rule change and, in 2016, the kickoff and touchback line were moved to reduce the likelihood of a player advancing the ball on a kickoff. A new research letter reports that during 68,479 plays from 2013 through 2017, there were 159 concussions (126 before the rule change and 33 after). The average annual concussion rate per 1,000 kickoff plays was 10.93 before the rule change (2013-2015) and 2.04 after (2016-2017). Although these results may not be generalizable beyond the Ivy League, they could be helpful to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as it considers adjusting kickoff rules in all collegiate football conferences.
Authors: Douglas J. Wiebe, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and coauthors
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