Schools, Conferences and NCAA Are Failing Where Concussions Are Concerned

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Schools, Conferences and NCAA Are Failing Where Concussions Are Concerned
Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Scott, the quarterback of the Arizona Wildcats, got his helmet rocked on Saturday. He got up, looked to be a bit off and then continued playing. A few plays later, the senior was popped again, and this time, there was some vomiting and a concussion test that would force him out of the game.

While I don't normally quote myself, to set a frame of reference, here is my tweet from the first hit made by Dion Bailey and TJ McDonald:

Now, I'm not diagnosing Scott with a concussion from the television set; I merely am calling it like I see it. Wobbling. Crazy eyes. Looking around trying to figure out what's going on. Does he have a concussion? No one knows. But should he be asked about it? Most certainly.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason you want to believe, he's a tough kid, trainers didn't see it, Arizona's coaching staff didn't care, Scott stayed in the game. He stayed in the game, and we saw this:

Scott, this week, stated that he was merely winded and, as he does plenty during practice and sprints, puked on the field. Nothing to see here.

It took two serious head shots for Matt Scott to finally be looked at by his training staff. Which brings us to where we are now.

Over at Forbes, Dan Diamond tackles how the concussion was handled. The way Rich Rod allowed Scott to stay in the game despite the big hits and the vomiting. All it took was a "Yes" from Scott when asked if he was OK.

Perhaps you're in the camp that blames the coach. Certainly, the NCAA's new "policy" on concussions requires coaches to look for concussion warning signs and alert the training staff to players who show these signals. Maybe you're on the side that blames Scott himself for electing to put himself at risk for more brain damage.

I'm not in the business of blaming someone on this micro level. In this case, that's largely due to both parties doing exactly what I'd expect them to do. Head coaches, NCAA policy or not, are in the business of winning football games first. Sure, there are guys out there who care tremendously about their players health. However, when it comes to getting a marquee win or salvaging a season or boosting a ranking, I'm not putting it past any coach to put a player's safety in jeopardy to get that done.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Rich Rod and Matt Scott did exactly what I expected of them.

Especially when the player is doing what players do best: play. Most dudes don't want to come out of the game. If they can walk and they can see, they're going to play. Scott is doing what many a player has done before him, ignoring warning signs in favor of getting those points to help his team secure a win.

No, if you want to blame someone, look at the macro level. Look who has made it easier than ever for players who have been concussed or possibly concussed to avoid detection and let coaches keep them in the game. Look at the conference and governing body level.

That's right; in instances like this, blame the Pac-12 and the NCAA.

To be frank, the NCAA can take their new policy and shove it. It's nothing but lip service and a "CYA" move to give the allusion of protecting these young adults that put their bodies on the line. The policy is, in a word, toothless.

While the sport's governing body strokes themselves by claiming to protect student athletes in a myriad of ways, the actual practical application is remarkably lacking. If only the NCAA put the same zeal into caring for the well-being of athletes as they did their new enforcement policy to make sure schools don't try and circumvent their rules.

I guess it's all about priorities.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
NCAA cares a lot more about the tattoos on his arm than the safety of his brain

In other words, the NCAA is more concerned with making sure Johnny X at Big State doesn't get a free meal or a little cash from a booster than they are with making sure Johnny X doesn't scramble his brain due to an undocumented concussion. Which makes sense, as long as Johnny X is out there getting his brain scrambled, the machine runs pretty well and by the time the symptoms reveal themselves, Johnny X is someone else's problem.

The toothless policy is merely another in a long line of stall tactics. Moves that look like they matter to the layperson but ultimately keep the NCAA from having to actually do anything to make the game more safe. The rules that have absolutely zero to do with safety such as the new helmet rule. The conference gets into the mix with the useless rhetoric when they trumpet their research efforts.

Both the SEC and the Big Ten are now conducting extensive concussion research. That means more time observing people get their grey matter rattled and doing nothing to help them. This summer, I let you know that I was less than impressed by the gesture; at this juncture, I'm flat-out sickened by it.

"We're researching it" does not absolve you of doing things now.

The Big Ten and SEC are not the first to study concussions. There is a wealth of knowledge that exists from multiple outlets on the study of brain trauma and the effects that impacts have on the brain. These guys aren't pioneering this field; they're chasing coattails while avoiding having to actually use the literature that's out there.

Boston University has done a tremendous amount of research on long-term brain effects and the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The University of North Carolina is at the forefront of impact technology to determine what types of hits and how hard those hits must be to generate concussions in athletes. Wake Forest and Virginia Tech have partnered together to give helmet safety ratings to help players wear the safest gear possible.

Virginia Tech's already spent a lot of time working on concussions

But it doesn't stop there. Impact monitoring is something that could help trainers identify instances where possible concussion yielding impacts occur. Yet every time it gets mentioned, people treat it like it's a hypothetical, made up, space science.

Folks, it is very real.

Hell, for $150, parents of youth football players can buy a device that fits into their child's helmet and sends their smartphones alerts as to when extreme impacts are registered.

Riddell, one of the leading helmet manufacturers on the collegiate level, makes helmets that already include HITS impact monitoring technology sensors inside them.

This isn't an impossible dream. It isn't even an improbable dream. This is a very real possibility that conferences and the NCAA are ignoring across the board. As the groups who are supposed to be the shepherds of the sport, they're doing a great job of milking the cow while leading it to the slaughter. Suckle every ounce you can get from these young men, and when they're used up—like Patrick Larrimore or Jimmy Gjere—throw them out and affix yourself to another udder.

People, we're talking about real-time impact monitoring technology. Something that can be used by trainers or booth officials to watch for hits that fall into the "possible concussion range" and identify at-risk players on any given play.

No more simply relying on a kid laying face down on the field, out cold, to determine whether or not you need to check him. No more relying on a kid getting hit enough that he pukes or is totally out of it upon returning to the sideline to administer the concussion tests.

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Simply put, take it out of the kids' hands. Take it out of the coaches' hands. Look folks, every single day, the training staff is tasked with telling the coach who can and who cannot go in practice and games. This is something that should be in their wheelhouse. Trainers don't watch every play. However, with notifications, perhaps a trainer in the booth who monitors the readings, they can relay the message as to who needs to be pulled, checked or who is tabulating several borderline hits throughout a game.

If you want to get serious about it, add a referee position. All he does is monitor both teams for serious impacts and radio to his on-field crew if a player needs to be pulled from competition for evaluation.

Want to be more real? Have an NCAA concussion evaluation person on hand. Someone who is not beholden to any team, who can't be pressured by any coach into fudging the results. Someone who is genuinely concerned with one thing: the well-being of the player he's examining.

Because isn't that what this is supposed to be about? The kid's well-being.

So, NCAA and conferences, spare me. Seriously. Sorry, I'm not impressed with your research initiatives. Spare me your useless rules. Spare me your joke of a policy. Let's do something to protect these kids. Your pockets are steady getting fat. You spend thousands of dollars on these athletes to turn them into fine-tuned athletic machines. You spend even more to fix knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows on your athletic machines.

Why not spend just a little more to help protect the only brain they get?

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