The NCAA is getting serious about player safety, and it's joining forces with the United States Department of Defense to do so.
A $30 million joint initiative was announced Thursday during a day-long concussion summit at the White House. This initiative is aimed at enhancing the safety of student-athletes and service members, including a comprehensive study of concussion and head impact exposure and the creation of a database for advanced research.
President Barack Obama told the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) that there's a very simple reason for more attention to be paid to concussions.
"We have to change a culture that says, 'Suck it up,'" he said.
NCAA president Mark Emmert commented on the study in a statement:
NCAA schools have placed a priority on improved concussion management, but we still have many unanswered questions in this area. We believe in the incredible potential of this research. Student-athletes will be first to benefit from this effort, but it also will help to more accurately diagnose, treat and prevent concussions among service men and women, youth sports participants and the broader public.
The goal of the program is to further understand the risks that concussions present and determine treatments after they occur.
"We don't really have an understanding of the natural history of concussions," said Dr. Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer. "The best project would be to set up a clinical study to try and come to that understanding."
The NCAA estimates that 30 institutions and four service academies will participate, and a total of 37,000 student-athletes across all sports are expected to enroll in the program over a three-year period. Those participants will be examined before the start of their respective seasons and monitored in the event of an injury.
"Let's really look at the member institutions, and try to get as many as we can to follow a similar protocol," Hainline said. "Every single student athlete undergoes a baseline concussion protocol. After a concussion, every student athlete undergoes a similar protocol for up to six months and then everybody is re-tested on a yearly basis."
|Years of NCAA/DoD Study||3|
|Number of Schools and Service Academies Participating||34|
|Estimated Number of Student Athletes||37,000|
|Expected Number of Concussions||700|
|NCAA/DoD Contribution||$30 million|
NCAA/DoD Conference Call
But it isn't just a small sample size of players in contact sports. The study will compare the impact of head trauma in student-athletes within their own sport and other sports.
"Each concussed athlete will two separate matched control athletes," said Hainline. "One control athlete will be matched based on the sport so that they're sustaining head impacts through routine participation. The injured athlete will also have a second control, who is an athlete who participates in non-contact sports."
Roughly 75 percent of the budget will be devoted to the study, which will be conducted by Indiana University, the University of Michigan and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The rest of the money will be devoted to the educational grand challenge for schools and private companies to develop new ways to educate the public on concussions symptoms and risks.
"We don't have a good sense of what kind of educational initiatives really help change the culture of concussion," said Hainline. "It was felt that if we could address education and come to a better understanding of the natural history of concussion, that it would be the best way."
The hope is that the study will not only help college athletes, but benefit those playing youth sports as well.
"One of our future dreams is that we will be able to take this foundational research and extend it to high school and youth," Hainline said. "That's for another time, and not too far off."
It's a big step for the NCAA and makes a statement that it's committed to player safety.
The education and prevention of brain trauma is a primary goal of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), and the NCAA is currently in the midst of a class-action lawsuit related to concussions, according to Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com.
But it's bigger than that.
The study is a just one piece of a concerted effort by the NCAA, its institutions and the government to make sports safer for participants at all levels, on top of the research that's already being performed on the effects of head trauma.
"We want our kids participating in sports," Obama said, according to the AP. "As parents, though, we want to keep them safe and that means we have to have better information."
The age of reform is upon us.
The NCAA seems open to the idea of the "power five" conferences having autonomy, and is making a giant leap toward improving player welfare, which has been one of the points of concern over the last few years.
It isn't just lip service.
It's real, and the NCAA should be commended for it.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.