NCAA seeks injury reduction with fewer full-contact practices

The National Collegiate Athletic Association suggested curbing full-contact football practices, echoing a policy instituted by the Ivy League in 2011.

The recommendation is among a set of guidelines created to “generate a cultural shift within college athletics,” the Indianapolis-based NCAA said on its website Monday. Other changes suggested are requirements for medical care and instructions for the diagnosis and management of sport-related concussions.

The guidelines follow six months of talks between the NCAA, the College Athletic Trainers’ Society, medical organizations, coaches and administrators.

“It’s consensus,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said. “In terms of changing the culture around health and safety, that’s the best way to do it.”

Former football players are suing the NCAA over its handling of concussions and head trauma. A similar lawsuit against the National Football League led to a $765 million settlement that isn’t complete.

Under the new guidelines, football teams are supposed to have no more than two live contact practices a week during the regular season. That mirrors a policy implemented by the Ivy League three years ago and enacted by the Pac-12 Conference before last season.

During the preseason, teams can have a maximum of 12 live contact practices, with no more than one a day and four a week. Of the 15 allowable spring practice sessions, eight may allow live contact.

Discussions about safety in college football began in Atlanta in January at a summit that included trainers, neurologists and team physicians. The gathering also had representatives from major athletic conferences including the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference and Ivy League.

“The opportunity to gather, at one table, the stakeholders from all disciplines in collegiate athletics, solely in the interest of student-athlete safety, is unprecedented,” said Scott Anderson, president of the College Athletic Trainers’ Society and head athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma.

Under the revised guidelines, an athlete diagnosed with a concussion is not allowed to return to play in the current game or practice on the same day. Institutions must make their concussion management plans available to the public, and gradually ease injured students back into both athletics and academics.

Schools must also designate a licensed physician to serve as a liaison between athletes and health-care providers. Those groups should have “unchallengeable autonomous authority” over injury management and return-to-play decisions, according to the release.

The NCAA said the guidelines aren’t legislated rules and may be altered in the future as research continues to change the approach to player safety. In May, the governing body for college athletics announced a $30 million partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense to study concussion and other head trauma.

“Medicine really is a process that’s much more fluid, which led us to the guideline approach rather than pursuing legislation,” Hainline said. “The words we like to use are ‘living, breathing.’ We’d much rather have a living, breathing document that can shift based on emerging evidence.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.