Football Practices Pose More Concussion Risk Than Games, Study Suggests

Even as they acknowledged that the N.C.A.A. had issued recommendations and pressed for wider changes, they noted tartly that “guidelines are not rules.”

The N.C.A.A. did not immediately comment on Monday.

In a speech in January, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A.’s president, said the association had “made wonderful strides around concussion protocols,” perhaps a reference to a 2015 mandate that every school in a Power 5 conference annually submit its concussion guidelines for review by a national committee. (That procedure has been waived during the coronavirus pandemic.)

During his yearly address to the N.C.A.A. convention, Emmert, without elaboration, urged adding “some teeth to our health and safety protocols” and said there should be a system that “holds each other accountable for the commitments we make to promote and advocate and conduct those protocols.”

But the N.C.A.A.’s legislative process is grueling, and few sports enterprises are as sprawling and disjointed as Division I college football. Although the N.C.A.A. caps practice time and enforces rules around matters like transfers and recruiting, the conferences that play football within Division I have enormous power and set policies that can vary from one league to the next.

In 2016, for instance, the Ivy League — which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, not the Football Bowl Subdivision that draws most of the money and attention — banned full-contact hits during all regular-season practices. The rule stands alone, the editorial noted, almost five years later.

The N.C.A.A. itself has often stuck with what it describes as “recommendations” to combat concussion risks, including that three days of practice each week during the regular season should involve no or minimal contact. The N.C.A.A.’s approach, the study’s authors asserted, “have had a limited effect in reducing preseason concussion incidence.”

The findings that were published on Monday were long in the making. In the study, conducted at six Division I schools that are participating in a research consortium partly funded by the N.C.A.A. and the Pentagon, 658 football players wore helmets outfitted with accelerometers.

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