In an effort to reduce head injuries in college football, the NCAA has released new concussion safety guidelines calling for limits on the number of contact practices and new measures for monitoring player health. The NCAA’s guidelines come after the adoption of PAC-12 and Ivy League legislation in 2013 establishing restrictions on the number of contact practices throughout the year.
The NCAA’s recommendations follow a six-month process that began in January 2014, when the College Athletic Trainers’ Society and the NCAA Sport Science Institute hosted a summit about college football safety in Atlanta. Since then, NCAA officials have worked with the College Athletic Trainers’ Society, several medical organizations, team physicians, the American Football Coaches Association and representatives from each of its conferences to draft these guidelines for improving player safety.
The guidelines include suggestions to limit the number of “live contact practices” during the spring, preseason, regular season and playoffs. A “live contact practice” is “any practice that involves live tackling to the ground and/or full-speed blocking.” The recommendations for each phase of the season are as follows:
- 8 of the 15 allowed practices may be live contact practices
- Maximum of 4 live contact practices per week, with a maximum of 12 live contact practices before the season
In Season, Postseason & Bowl Season
- Maximum of 2 live contact practices per week
Additionally, the guidelines recommend best practices for diagnosing and managing concussions. These best practices have been endorsed by medical organizations such as the American Academy of Neurology, the American College of Sports Medicine and the NCAA Concussion Task Force. The guidelines emphasize the presence of independent doctors to evaluate injuries after an athlete has been diagnosed with a concussion, and that schools designate a licensed physician as medical director to oversee the medical care provided to athletes. Furthermore, the NCAA encourages schools to make their concussion management plans publicly available.
In a statement to ESPN.com, Chris Nowinski, Executive Director of The Sports Legacy Institute, said , even though the NCAA protocol is non-binding, it is a step in the right direction. “I think for what it was intended to do, it addresses a lot of the gaps that existed that left college athletes at risk,” said Nowinski. “I think it was an impressive effort by a lot of people to put it together quickly with so many organizations involved. Now it needs to be monitored if it’s actually implemented and adopted by individual schools.”
The NCAA is defending a federal class action lawsuit brought on behalf of current and former NCAA football players who sustained a concussion(s) or suffered concussion-like symptoms while playing football at an NCAA school that alleges it has failed to take sufficient steps to prevent student athletes from concussion related injuries.