As a former college football player who clearly did not make it to the NFL, the impact of concussions on the collegiate athlete is something that is near and dear to my heart. It seems writers are not the only ones concerned about this, finally. The SEC is launching an all-sports research project to study the damage associated with concussions on the brain of the collegiate athlete. As Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News reports:
There's been less focus on college players who don't go on to play professional sports, but I think you'll see that getting more attention and go down to people who play it at every level," said University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones, who is heading the SEC concussion group. "From time to time we have all had concerns of what we ask student-athletes to do and what the long-term health may be.
That means both the Big Ten and the SEC will be studying concussions at the college level, and that folks, is a great thing. However, following the extensive University of North Carolina study on concussions and the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest helmet technology studies, it is time for college athletics to do more than just gather info. Simply put, it is time for some measures to be taken in the name of safety.
There needs to be the mandate for the censors to be in all helmets. Those censors need to be monitored in order to work as a "pitch count" for hits taken. Big hits need to warrant an automatic concussion test be administered, whether in practice or in games. For concussions that are diagnosed there needs to be standardized practices in terms of amount of time missed and concussion tests administered to insulate against second impact syndrome.
With respect to helmets, for all my love of the VSR-4 model, there should not be any of those on the field in 2012. The helmet is, to put it bluntly, terrible. It is unsafe in every sense of the word—it earned a one-star, marginally safe rating in the tests ran in the VT-WFU study. Get them out of circulation. Get them off of kids' heads. Put the safest helmet models in the hands of equipment managers and make sure all of the players wear them and that they are properly fitted.
Are the studies enough of an effort to make the game safer?
Look, the research is great, but the fact is while people are gathering the raw data, kids are suffering concussions because old practices are continuing to be utilized. The ACC brains studied by UNC, VT and Wake Forest are no different and no more or less precious than the grey matter in the Big Ten or SEC. That research can be used by their schools to make the game safer. In fact, the research needs to be used to make the game safer now, as a mandate, not an option.
Get better helmets for these kids who are out there running around getting their skulls bashed to entertain fans and fill up the power brokers' pockets. Get the concussion tests and monitoring of impacts standardized.
Having a wealth of information is not worth much if no one uses it to put safer practices into play.