Schutt Challenges STAR Rating System for Football Helmets

(Editor’s note: a more extensive story of this will appear in the August 2012 Concussion Litigation Reporter)

Schutt Sports, the world’s largest maker of helmets and faceguards, has challenged the STAR rating system for football helmets developed by Virginia Tech University.

According to Schutt, the study does not take into consideration a multitude of significant factors and may give parents, coaches and players an inaccurate impression and a false sense of security when evaluating the performance of the helmets.

“Virginia Tech did not test current helmets for this study,” said Schutt CEO Robert Erb, “They used data from the testing of helmets over two years ago.   The fact that they did this study with two-year-old data and grouped it together with new test data is concerning.  We are raising this issue now because we believe the way the study was conducted is not predictive of what will happen on the field.”

Earlier this week, Schutt said NOCSAE, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment came out with a statement discrediting the study:

“NOCSAE does not recommend that parents and athletes form decisions on the safest and most effective equipment based on any single individual data point, rating, or measurement, including the Virginia Tech STAR football helmet rating system. This may lead to inaccurate conclusions that one helmet brand or model has a measurably higher level of concussion protection than another for a particular athlete.

“Much has been made in the marketplace about the three helmets that did qualify as the highest rated – or 5-Star – helmets in the 2012 update to the Virginia Tech study. But test data from an independent, third-party ISO lab and calculations with the STAR rating system algorithm, showed that the newest versions of Schutt helmets easily qualified for 5-Star ratings, including a youth helmet that retails for $69.99.

“The Virginia Tech study uses calculations and algorithms that weigh some impacts more heavily than others – placing greater emphasis on low velocity impacts.  Such impacts are already known to be better dissipated and absorbed by softer padding, while high velocity impacts are absorbed better by harder pads. Thus, Erb was not surprised when the company’s entry level youth helmet, the $69.99 AiR Standard II – tested better than every other helmet tested by Virginia Tech. “

“While it passes the NOCSAE helmet standard, the 2012 AiR Standard II is an entry level helmet designed for much younger players,” explained Erb.” The idea of putting such a helmet on a player at any high school, college or NFL team is absurd. The fact that it’s the best helmet in the STAR rating system should cause concern for anyone relying on the system for purchasing decisions.”

As many as 12 other indicators show that the Virginia Tech study did not give an accurate depiction of the true STAR system, according to Schutt. “Some of the following flaws in the study include:

  • All helmets were tested at 72 degrees Fahrenheit with fixed humidity.  Not a true depiction of real-time temperatures on the football field.
  • Helmets dropped from 12 inches are given disproportionate weighting in the study, despite years of research that demonstrate that concussions involve a multitude of variables and no definitive scientific evidence that these smaller types of hits will result in a concussive episode.
  • The Virginia Tech lab is not an accredited lab. The lab used by Schutt Sports is an independent A2LA accredited ISO 17025 certified lab.
  • The VA Tech study only measures linear force and doesn’t take into consideration rotational force of impact.”

Erb added: “What scares me the most is that some school districts are now using the Virginia Tech study to determine which helmets they buy. They may be buying helmets based on a flawed testing methodology.  There is no such thing as a concussion proof helmet. In fact, any company, organization or academic study that states a particular helmet can directly and significantly reduce even the risk of concussion is simply not telling the truth.  Those that are selling on the basis of stars may be seeing stars before this is all over.”

Other factors play a role in whether or not an athlete is concussed, including genetics, grass or turf field, beginning or end of the season and more, according to Schutt.  None of those factors were taken into consideration during VA Tech’s testing.  What’s more, it is well established that an athlete can receive a concussion even if he is hit in a part of his body other than his head.

“For those that are making purchasing decisions based solely on the 5 star system, they can have five-star helmets, verified by independent, accredited testing labs,” Erb said, “but we will not use the proposed Virginia Tech standard to create helmets.  We cannot, and will not lessen the standards of safety to measure up to a rating system that we believe has some serious flaws.”

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