NCAA Committee Supports Giving Athletic Trainers and Physicians Unchallengeable Authority

By Brian Hendrickson, of the NCAA.org

The NCAA’s committee responsible for student-athlete health and safety took steps at its summer meeting to better establish medical personnel as authoritative decision-makers in college sports.

During its meeting June 15-17 in Dallas, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports approved a series of recommendations that build on legislation passed by the NCAA’s five autonomy conferences earlier this year and would establish athletic trainers and team physicians as unchallengeable decision-makers for medical management and return-to-play decisions related to student-athletes. The recommendations would also create a new designated position on campuses – an athletics healthcare administrator – which would ensure campuses are following established best practices for medical care.

“Over the last three years, the committee has consistently worked to empower primary athletics health care providers and championed organizational structures that ensure independent medical care for student-athletes,” said CSMAS chair Forrest Karr, athletics director at Northern Michigan University. “These recommendations are another step in the process. We envision a future where each member institution, in all three divisions, will designate an athletics health care administrator responsible for ensuring that their school’s policies and procedures follow inter-association consensus recommendations and comply with all NCAA health and safety legislation.”

The committee crafted its recommendations by working from legislation that was passed by the five autonomy conferences in Division I at the 2016 NCAA Convention. That legislation will take effect Aug. 1 and provides unchallengeable autonomous authority to team physicians and athletic trainers at schools in those conferences to determine medical management and return-to-play decisions related to student-athletes. The remaining conferences in Division I currently have the option of applying that legislation.

The CSMAS recommendations aim to shape the intent of that legislation into a consistent standard across college sports. To get there, CSMAS made three recommendations:

  • One recommendation encourages leagues outside the autonomy conferences in Division I to apply the autonomous legislation passed in January. The recommendation asks that those conferences opt in to the legislation by Aug. 1, 2017.
  • A second legislative recommendation asks the Division I autonomous conferences to clarify the bylaw passed in January by changing the name of its oversight position – called a director of medical services in that legislation – to athletics healthcare administrator. The name change was requested out of concern that the position could be confused with the title of “medical director,” which is established elsewhere in NCAA bylaws.
  • A third recommendation asks Divisions II and III to sponsor legislation similar to that passed by the Division I autonomous conferences to establish the athletics health care administrator position and provide team physicians and athletic trainers with unchallengeable autonomous authority to determine medical management and return-to-play decisions related to student-athletes. The committee stressed that the health care administrator role may be given to an existing staff member rather than create an additional administrative position.

CSMAS recommendations follow those from other organizations in recent years which called for physicians and athletic trainers to have the ability to make medical decisions without fear of interference from coaches or other athletics personnel.

In 2014, the Journal of Athletic Training published interassociation best practices – of which the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute was included as an endorsing organization – which included giving physicians and athletic trainers authority to make medical decisions for student-athletes. That document was published at a time when a national survey conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education documented that athletic trainers, in particular, function under the heavy influence of the coaching staffs: Thirty-two percent of respondents indicated the head coach influences their hiring; 42 percent reported feeling pressured to return a concussed athlete to play early; and 52 percent reported feeling pressured to return injured athletes early.

 

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