Although at the onset, the liability of the NCAA concerning head injuries seems to be similar to that of the NFL, one detail is significant: unlike their professional counterparts, student-athletes do not have the ability to negotiate labor practices. NCAA is supposed to be party protecting the student-athletes, while NFL players have employers and a union to look out for their interests. This increased responsibility to student athletes means the NCAA is legally responsible in the courts when they fail to protect athlete safety, as they unfortunately have done for so many years.
The crux of the argument for many former student-athletes is the painstaking detail the NCAA goes into for all aspects of sports- from regulating the type of cream cheese athletes are allowed to how recruits can be contacted; the NCAA has a regulation on everything but concussion management. One former player pointed out the lack of NCAA attention when discussing his medical bills. Had a booster paid the medical bills, sanctions would have resulted.
Emails included as evidence in one lawsuit against the NCAA exhibit their lack of concern for head injuries. When asked if concussion recommendations at the youth level exceeded what was required at the college level, the director of health and safety replied, ”Well since we don’t currently require anything all steps are higher than ours.”
From 2004-2009, the NCAA injury reports estimate more than 16,000 football players suffered concussions. In addition to that large number of potentially life-changing injuries, the NCAA provided partial funding for head injury research and knew the results as early as 2003.
The NCAA has a duty to protect student-athletes. The association gains financially each year from these players yet provides nothing after they graduate and resume normal life. The attempt to shift the development of concussion protocols to individual schools is nothing more than an attempt to avoid responsibility.