By Brian Burnsed, of the NCAA
During its December meeting in Indianapolis, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports discussed and agreed with the core principles of a recent proposal by the Southeastern Conference that calls for creating a Concussion Safety Protocol Committee.
The proposed committee would oversee concussion treatment and management protocols for all contact sports among the 65 Division I schools that were recently granted rule-making autonomy in several areas.
The draft proposal would require representatives for each contact sport at each school to submit a written protocol to the committee for review on an annual basis; receive approval of the protocol prior to participating in competition; rehearse the concussion procedures before the first practice of each season and at least once a month thereafter; and provide information to the committee, whenever requested, regarding any incidents in which a student-athlete might have suffered a concussion.
The concussion protocols and procedures submitted by each team, the proposal states, should adhere to the best practices espoused in the NCAA inter-association concussion diagnosis and management guidelines, which were released in July and endorsed by 11 leading medical organizations.
Aside from recommending that teams should rehearse the protocol annually rather than every month, the committee agreed with the essential concept proposed by the conference and encouraged the rest of Division I as well as Divisions II and III to adopt similar legislation.
“One of the most critical elements of this document is it still allows for each institution to make independent medical decisions in the interest of their student-athletes,” said Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports chair Brant Berkstresser, the head athletic trainer at Harvard University. “This proposal will assist in the education of our medical staffs, athletics directors and coaches on the inter-association guidelines, which institutions should follow when developing their concussion management plans.”
The committee also reviewed information about wearable technology, such as global positioning systems, accelerometers that measure speed and impacts and heart monitors that help determine fatigue. Such devices are increasingly used throughout the membership, particularly at Division I schools with ample resources. The committee indicated it does not want to stand in the way of using tools it views as potentially valuable and understands that proliferation is inevitable as the devices become more affordable. But it encouraged members to exercise prudence and caution when using them.
While the technology can assist coaches who seek to measure sport performance and to increase practice and training efficiency, the committee recommended:
- The data generated by those technologies should be used in conjunction with the sports medicine team to ensure health and safety concerns are taken into account.
- No matter what the data indicate, athletics health care providers should have unchallengeable autonomous authority to determine medical management and make return-to-play decisions.
- The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel should consider changing relevant playing rules to ensure they facilitate the implementation of the new technologies.
- Those permissive modifications should not run afoul of existing playing equipment standards, certifications and warranties.
- The committee’s recommendations will likely catalyze a number of discussions and changes regarding wearable devices as the Playing Rules Oversight Panel and individual sport committees begin altering existing regulations to pave the way for increased use of the technologies.