The head injury to Texas quarterback David Ash is frightening.
Ash, the junior starter for the Longhorns, last played on Sept. 21 against Kansas State, though he didn't finish the game. That's because he was still suffering from concussion-like symptoms from the head injury he sustained in a loss to BYU on Sept. 7.
The injury was so bad that Ash didn't attend the Sept. 14 game against Ole Miss, apparently because he was advised to stay away from bright lights and loud noises.
Yet, there he was in shoulder pads and a helmet against K-State. He was technically cleared to play, and no one here is accusing Texas of purposely bringing him back before he was ready, but hindsight tells us the closest Ash should have been to a football field that night was on the sidelines.
Now, there's good reason to think Ash may not play another down of football this season. It all depends on whether doctors clear him to play.
To be eligible for a medical, a doctor has to confirm that a player was unable to play for the ENTIRE second half of the season.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 1, 2013
So even though Ash only played in three games, if doctors clear him for Baylor (even if he chooses not to play), he can't receive a medical.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 1, 2013
However, Texas head coach Mack Brown said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference that Ash is making progress.
“When he returns to play, who knows?” Brown said via the Dallas Morning News. “But I think the symptoms are subsiding.”
Ash has already been ruled out for Saturday's game against Kansas. There's no indication yet that he'll be ready for the Nov. 9 road trip to West Virginia—or beyond. With senior Case McCoy handling the offense, and with the redshirt stripped from freshman backup Tryone Swoopes, the quarterback situation is as well-established as it's going to be.
Even if Ash is available to play down the road, it wouldn't be surprising if Texas found a doctor to sign off on an "ongoing headache."
But I would presume that if Ash says he's still having headaches (a complete hypothetical here), a doctor would sign off on it.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 1, 2013
Speaking of the Jayhawks, Ash's injury brings to mind the same issue facing Kansas running back Tony Pierson. Pierson sustained a head injury in the Oct. 5 loss to Texas Tech. He missed the following two games against TCU and Oklahoma before returning briefly in a loss to Baylor last Saturday.
“I’m concerned,” Weis said Tuesday when asked about Pierson’s status. “There’s nothing medically keeping him from playing. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Maybe I’m overly concerned. But when a kid’s out there for three plays and he’s dizzy and he hasn’t gotten hit, you better be concerned. Especially when he’s had his head knocked around a couple times in a calendar year.”
“I could’ve put him day-to-day,” Weis said. “He’s listed as questionable. There’s nothing on the medical report that keeps him from playing. But the odds of me playing him are slim to none. ... The next time Tony goes out there will be where he’s totally convinced that (a) he’s healthy and (b) that he’s not gonna get hurt. He will not see the field one second until we get to that time.”
Each athletics program has to determine how to handle concussions in its own way because the NCAA doesn't have a uniform policy in place. Conferences like the SEC have asked the NCAA to take a stronger initiative on the subject, but given the snail-like pace at which the NCAA operates, there's no imminent answer.
Not to mention the NCAA has been dealing with lawsuits over the issue. That's certainly not going to expedite things.
B/R's own Michael Felder wrote last year that the NCAA, conferences and schools are failing when it comes to dealing with head injuries. And if there's one thing the situation at Grambling State taught us, it is that there's never been a bigger need for a players' association—or any group in college athletics, for that matter—that is able to speak on the players' behalf.
Head injury prevention, awareness and advancement would fall under that umbrella.
Players deserve that kind of protection.
Maybe Ash comes back this season. Maybe he doesn't. Maybe Ash never plays a down of football again. Whatever the case may be, Ash is 21 years old with an entire life of opportunities ahead of him.
However, he only gets one opportunity at a properly-functioning brain. So, David Ash, come back when you're ready...if you're ever ready. And not a moment before.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.