Brian Hainline

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Power Five conferences give medical officials final say on concussed and injured players

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Football medical professionals will be given the final authority to determine if a player suffering from a concussion or any other injury may be able to return to the football field during a game as a result of a new rule approved by the power conferences during an NCAA convention this week. The new rule is added on top of existing concussion protocols at each school and removes the power of a head coach to insert a player back into a game at the risk of any further injury. The new rule was proposed by the Big 12 and was passed without much contention, passing by a 79-1 vote.

I believe it’s the most important legislation in the history of the NCAA,” said Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer and a neurologist. “It really defines who the primary athletics health-care providers are.”

One aspect of the rule also prohibits a head coach at a college football program from having any hiring or firing say in the medical official to serve on the staff. That helps eliminate any pressure a head coach may have over a medical official, which can open a door to the pressure to return a player to the field before that player may ultimately be ready to play.

“I think there has been concern expressed that there are sometimes influences on athletic trainers and physicians to get them to return to play sooner than he or she is ready to,” Hainline said. “No one should be able to challenge that authority.”

Some schools already allow their medical staff to have the final say, but this new rule makes this a standard each power five conference member will have to adhere to. Naturally, Group of Five conferences and schools will be encouraged to follow in this mold moving forward, and odds are most, if not all, of the other conferences will look into making this rule a standard soon enough.

NCAA makes recommendations to reduce contact in practice

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With the football offseason getting ready to move into summer camp mode leading up to the start of the season, the NCAA released a new set of recommended guidelines regarding player safety with a special emphasis on concussion treatments and practice habits. Among the recommendations was a limit of two contact practices per week during the season. The new guidelines are a result of months of collaborative work between the NCAA, College Athletic Trainers’ Society, various medical organizations, coaches and conference commissioners.

Unlike official rule changes, the recommendations released by the NCAA on Monday are said to be working in “real-time,” which allows the NCAA to change or modify the guidelines on the fly as more research becomes available rather than wait for the next season to come around.

“Medicine really is a process that’s much more fluid, which led us to the guideline approach rather than pursuing legislation,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian 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.”

However, because these are simply guidelines, it is still up to the conferences and schools to choose to adopt them and make them a standard. The NCAA cannot punish a school or conference for operating under other methods or policies, but it can say “We told you so.” Because this was a combined effort, it is expected these guidelines will be adopted throughout the sport.

“These guidelines are strict in concept but flexible in design, allowing coaches ample freedom to design practice schedules while limiting the amount of full-contact situations that players will experience,” said Montana State University head football coach Rob Ash. “There is no doubt in my mind that coaching staffs across the country at all levels will enthusiastically endorse these guidelines and incorporate them into their football practice regimen.”

The Pac-12 has already instituted a policy limiting conference members to two contact practices per week. Some of these philosophies have started to spread across all levels of football, including the NFL where some teams have rethought the way practices are run.

Here is how the guidelines read, according to the NCAA;

  • Preseason: For days when schools schedule a two-a-day practice, live contact practices are only allowed in one practice. A maximum four live contact practices may occur in a given week, and a maximum of 12 total may occur in the preseason. Only three practices (scrimmages) would allow for live contact in greater than 50 percent of the practice schedule.
  • Inseason, postseason and bowl season: There may be no more than two live contact practices per week.
  • Spring practice: Of the 15 allowable sessions that may occur during the spring practice season, eight practices may involve live contact; three of these live contact practices may include greater than 50 percent live contact (scrimmages). Live contact practices are limited to two in a given week and may not occur on consecutive days.

When it comes to player safety, especially regarding concussions and other forms of head trauma, there really is no bad way to go about establishing new guidelines. The Pac-12 changed their habits last season and any fears about the level of play may have been put to rest as the conference continued to gain praise on a national competitive level. How will these new guidelines be received throughout the country? That remains to be seen, but feel free to share your reactions in the comment section.