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Nebraska Takes Lead on Concussion Testing: What Does That Say About NCAA?

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Nebraska Takes Lead on Concussion Testing: What Does That Say About NCAA?
Eric Francis/Getty Images

The Nebraska Cornhuskers, as Eric Olson of the Associated Press reported, are pushing toward taking the next step in concussion testing. Meanwhile, the NCAA still has no baseline rules addressing the sport's most pressing issue.

As has been seen more than once on the concussion front, schools have to protect their own, while the body supposedly responsible for athletes' safety stands idly by.

Nebraska is taking impact monitoring, a science to red-flag hits that might lead to concussions, to the next level with a project in its new Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. Olson explained the complex process, as related by center director Dennis Molfese:

If all goes according to Dennis Molfese's plan, the day is coming when a football player who takes a hit to the head will come to the sideline, take off his helmet and slip on an electrode-covered mesh cap.

The team's medical staff will analyze the player's brain waves on the spot and determine within minutes whether he can safely return to the game or whether he has sustained a concussion and, if so, how severe.

As the researchers at Nebraska get closer to making this part of their sideline process, they are also elevating the level of diagnostics that can be performed.

Already, the technology exists to notify trainers of hits that register in the "concussion possible/probably" realm. There are teams already monitoring impacts and working with helmet manufacturers and research departments to keep hit counts and track blows to the head.

Yet none of this, including the widely available Head Impact Telemetry System that works with the helmets athletes already wear, is standard or required. None of the safety precautions are audited by the sport's governing body or considered an indispensable step in protecting athletes.

Instead, the ruling organization takes the big public-relations steps of suspending players and forcing sit-outs for helmet pop-offs.

Those moves look good to people watching the games on television and sound good to announcers who talk about them.

They seem right to people who have not delved deeply into the world of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, sub-concussive blows, concussions with delayed symptoms and the like.

Schools that are using their research to advance not just the conversation, but also the safety technology, are to be applauded. However, inaction by the NCAA allows others to lag behind on the safety front. Schools without the initiative or the research capabilities sit idle while others go out to protect their players.

For all of the gaps between the haves and have-nots that the NCAA pushes to legislate out of the game, concussion science and player safety should be where efforts are focused and money is distributed. Forcing schools to monitor impacts and players to sit out a mandatory time period for concussion symptoms would go a long way toward improving player safety.

The plus is that schools such as Nebraska are taking the lead and ensuring that the bevy of research on concussions does not go to waste. But as advancements are made, the sport's governing body needs to push to make every player safe, not just the ones fortunate enough to be at a school that decides impact monitoring is worth doing.

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