The NCAA & Football Concussions
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established in 1906 and serves as the governing body regarding athletics for more than 1,300 colleges, universities, conferences, and organizations. The association’s mission is to “emphasize student-athlete safety” and NCAA claims the experience will enrich student-athletes through safe and reasonable standards. However, the stark truth is many student-athletes suffer debilitating injuries that lead to long-term medical issues. Football concussions are the biggest focus and many questions have been raised about how the NCAA deals with head injuries.
Startling Consequences of the NCAA’s Missteps
Football players have long been viewed as indestructible and tough. If a coach asked a player if he had “his bell rung” during a play, the question was not one of medical concern as much as ensuring the player could go back on the field. Having “your bell rung” is not to be taken lightly, and too often results in permanent consequences. Many times a concussion goes undiagnosed. Multiple concussions can cause long-term medical issues such as memory loss, seizures, depression, and near-daily migraines.
Until 2012, the NCAA had no concussion protocol and the rules currently in place are mostly general suggestions. There were no plans on how to treat, monitor and suspend play for a player who may have suffered a concussion. The association and universities have a moral duty to act en loco parentis; parents send their student-athlete children to college assuming they will be safe and unharmed. These are young adults with still developing brains and the assumption is they will not suffer long-term cognitive damage.
This lack of protocol was not due to lack of knowledge of long-term brain damage from multiple concussions; it was to avoid liability. By not crafting a protocol and instead attempting to delegate responsibility to the individual schools, the NCAA has attempted to sidestep liability and responsibility. While many former players agree and understand football can be a violent sport, the full extent of the damage was unknown until recently. Education of collegiate players is desired to allow them to understand the effects and make the decision to seek medical attention even if they are asked to return to the game.
Diseases & Injuries Associated with Concussions
Concussions can result in a wide range of diseases and injuries of the brain that either appear immediately after impact or rather cause the brain to degenerate over time. The most common are as follows:
- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
- Parkison’s Disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Neurocognitive disorder
- Post-Concussion Syndrome
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
The Symptoms of Brain Trauma
Brain trauma can cause many symptoms in different individuals. Some players may develop and display symptoms from a few acute concussions that manifest differently in a player with only one documented concussion. There is no exact science to brain trauma. Below are conditions reported in players with brain trauma:
- Mood and personality changes
- Loss of memory
- Cognitivie deficits
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Sleep Problems
- Bipolar Disorder
- “Punch Drunk”
- Panic Disorder
- Social Phobia
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease associated with multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. It is most commonly associated with individuals who have played contact sports or had combat injuries during their military service.
CTE can only be positively diagnosed postmortem. Not all experts agree on how little or much head trauma can cause CTE or the mechanism of injury. A recent study was completed by Dr. Ann McKee at the Boston University CTE Center to determine the neurological and clinical features of 202 deceased American football players of all ages and levels of play.
87% of the athletes were diagnosed with CTE.
Of the 202 studied, 48 of the 53 college football players received a positive diagnosis. 110 of the 111NFL athletes were also positively diagnosed. Dr. McKee identified “severe” disease in 56% of the college athletes and 86% of the professionals. This data demonstrates a clear correlation betweenCTE and participating in football.
The NCAA’s Responsibility to Players’ Safety
The NCAA and all its member institutions present themselves as a governing body that will look out for and advance the goals of student athletes. The NCAA dictates rules and legislation to its member conferences and schools, and these protocols are supposed to be designed to protect athletes.Almost every aspect of the students’ lives are also controlled, from the times they can practice to their healthcare, even the meals they eat. Students and their parents entrust the NCAA with the health and well-being of young men and women, and the NCAA willingly assumes a duty to protect these athletes. Yet the NCAA remains frustratingly silent on concussions, sub-concussive hits and head injuries, some of the most vital issues of player safety.
For 2015-16, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available, NCAA revenue was a record-breaking $996 million, most of which came from the rights agreement with Turner/CBS Sports. The only money put towards a brain injury program similar to the NFL’s was a $400,000 donation to research brain trauma in 2013. That amount is less than half of the salary of a bowl game CEO.
The NFL has agreed to pay $765 million to fund medical exams, concussion-related compensation,medical research for retired NFL players and their families, and litigation expenses. The NFL has setup protocols for concussions and suspected concussions while slashing practice time, all to prevent head injuries. Yet the only class action settlement the NCAA has reached to date involves medical monitoring that will not result in any monetary compensation to athletes who sustained personal injuries.
Contact our NCAA Lawyers Today
If you or a loved one have experienced brain trauma as a result of a head injury while playing for a NCAA regulated team, please contact the attorneys at Raizner Slania. The NCAA has an obligation to protect student-athletes, not to be a silent party to their injuries.