“If they’re coaching,” he said, “can they coach more safely?”
Teevens, 62, casts his unusual policies as enlightened self-interest. Practices with less contact mean fewer injuries and fresher players. Never tackling teammates means more, and more precise, work on tackling technique. He estimates Dartmouth has cut its missed tackles by two-thirds. (The M.V.P.s also represent another kind of enlightened self-interest: They were Teevens’s idea, and he is chairman of the company that manufactures them.)
In 2010, the year Teevens got rid of tackling, Dartmouth had its first winning season in 13 years. In 2015, Dartmouth was 9-1 and won a share of the Ivy title. The one loss that year came against Harvard, which Dartmouth (6-0) faces this weekend.
“This is probably the best Dartmouth team in the last 25 years,” said Tim Murphy, Harvard’s coach since 1994, calling the Big Green “as big and strong and physical a team as we’ll see all year.”
Beyond wanting to win, Teevens is motivated by a fear that an irreplaceable sport could die.
“I think it’s too valuable a game to say, ‘Oh, we’ll do something else,’” he said. “But I also look at the data and the medical side of it. Something has to be done.”
The bet is that the sport can be salvaged by incremental changes that might help save players like Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania team captain who hanged himself in 2010 and was then found to have C.T.E.
“He’s trying to make his players safer in a way that hasn’t hurt them on the field,” said Chris Nowinski, a founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “He’s proving we can change football, make it safer, work within the system.”