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The Finger Prints Are Apparent on the Ivy League’s Concussion Initiative

What do you get when you combine savvy and intelligence?

Today’s Ivy League.

The latest example was the Ivy League presidents’ recent decision to accept a series of recommendations made by the League’s Multi-Sport Concussion Review Committee aimed “at limiting the incidence of concussion” in men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s soccer.

While this decision may seem somewhat inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, it is more than that. It is part of a plan, a plan that probably wouldn’t be in place were it not for another decision made by the Ivy League presidents three years ago – the hiring of Robin Harris to be the league’s executive director.

At the time, Harris was one of the sports law industry’s budding stars at the Indianapolis law firm of Ice Miller, which has been a leader in helping schools with NCAA rules compliance issues. In Harris, the presidents saw something that embodied savvy and intelligence. And they wanted it.

Harris’s approach to concussions was on full display in the league’s announcement.

“These concussion reviews, particularly as they relate to the safety of our student-athletes, reflect the Ivy League’s interest in taking a leadership role in appropriate aspects of athletics generally and regarding concussions specifically,” she said. “Expanding our review to include more sports is another way to drive the discussion and help student-athletes across our broad-based athletics programs.”

Indeed.

In developing the recommendations, the sport-specific committees reviewed national data and research, as well as three years of retrospective Ivy League concussion data. Coaches and athletics trainers at each school collected the Ivy League data, which tracked the number of concussions and the circumstances surrounding the concussions on each team.

The recommendations, to take effect for the 2012-13 academic year, incorporate several common components including a continued emphasis on educational initiatives. For example, consistent with current protocols, preseason meetings between teams and athletic trainers, team physicians and outside speakers will emphasize learning and recognizing the signs of concussion, the importance of reporting symptoms and the potential life-changing impact of concussion.

Also among the common recommendations, men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s soccer will collect prospective data regarding concussions in the coming seasons in order to produce higher quality concussion data for further study. The Ivy League office will also collect video clips from men’s and women’s soccer and men’s and women’s lacrosse games to assess whether the video is of sufficient quality to allow for the future implementation of a postgame review and possible suspension policy, similar to the current review in football.

“When looking at sports such as lacrosse and soccer it became obvious that the need for quality data had to be our focus for the future,” said Cornell President David J. Skorton. “We need to determine under exactly what circumstances these concussions are occurring on the field. In the interim, taking steps to minimize exposures while also increasing education became paramount.”

The Ivy League presidents also accepted sport-specific recommendations, including:

Men’s Lacrosse

  • Coaches will designate 11 combined days in the fall and spring seasons in which body checking will not be permitted in practices.
  • Only one full-contact practice per day will be permitted.
  • Coaches will place a greater emphasis on teaching proper hitting techniques in practice.
  • The Ivy League office will work with the NCAA on specific issues that could potentially lower the incidence of concussion, including examining the possibility of more stringent consequences for penalties involving targeting the head as well as considering possible rules changes surrounding face-offs.

Women’s Lacrosse

  • Coaches will modify 10 spring practices to exclude stick-checking.
  • Coaches will dedicate time during the beginning of fall practice and skill instruction season on teaching proper stick-checking technique.
  • Each student-athlete will be required to attend at least one skill instruction session that focuses on proper stick-checking technique prior to the first fall practice.
  • Other adopted recommendations centered on suggestions for minimizing accidental hits to the head during practices and continued assessment of officiating to address fouls involving hits (i.e., stick-checking) to the head and other dangerous play.
  • Certified officials will attend one fall practice to emphasize adherence to safety rules and cardable fouls.

Men’s and Women’s Soccer

  • Education regarding the NCAA substitution rule will be emphasized to student-athletes, coaches and officials. The rule allows for substitution and re-entry for players with concussion-like symptoms so that they can be properly evaluated on the sideline but substituted back into the game (not counting against team’s substitution total) if they are cleared to play by a team trainer or physician.
  • Three hours of countable preseason practice will be used by coaches to teach and review proper techniques for heading duels.

The Ivy League has also identified men’s and women’s ice hockey as sports warranting a similar concussion review. The Multi-Sport Concussion Committee will review the findings and suggestions of the ad hoc men’s and women’s ice hockey committees, and the presidents will consider these recommendations in December.

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Big Ten, Ivy League Announce Collaboration to Study Head Injuries

The Big Ten Conference and the Ivy League, in conjunction with the Big Ten Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), have announced plans to engage in a co-sponsored, cross-institutional research collaboration to study the effects of head injuries in sports.

The objective of the collaboration is to coordinate ongoing efforts by each conference “to research and address various aspects of head injuries in athletics, including concussions.”

Barbara McFadden Allen, CIC Executive Director said “CIC member universities have collaborated for more than 50 years, but this is the deepest and most significant research and academic collaboration we’ve launched. It draws perfectly on the intersection of great medicine, great athletics and great academics that characterizes what is best in our universities. By working together across traditional boundaries, we can build the infrastructure to address the problem, assemble a much larger potential pool of athletes and draw upon the formidable research and medical fields and talents represented across the universities.”

Dr. Jim Yong Kim, co-chair of the Ivy League Multi-Sport Concussion Committee and Dartmouth College President, added that “we expect the results of our efforts to advance our collective understanding of the effects of concussions and head injuries, and to extend beyond our two conferences. Combining our common interest and work to-date in researching and addressing concussion in sports will enhance the welfare and well-being of student-athletes across the various fields of competition.”

In May 2010, the Big Ten became the first collegiate conference to establish a conference-wide concussion management plan, according to the conference. In 2011, the Ivy League developed and enacted a series of concussion-curbing measures in the sport of football after a year-long review. Since September 2011, the two conferences have engaged in discussions “to examine the feasibility and benefits of collaboration, while outlining the framework and objectives associated with the initiative.”

Together, they cope the “collaborative effort will provide a broad population sample from which to obtain meaningful data on the incidence of head injuries in young adults, and will allow for the potential of longitudinal examinations into the health impact of head injuries as student-athletes transition into professional careers both on and off the field.”

What follows, according to the two leagues, are the byproducts of each conference’s independent work over the last two years:

• Developed a “Concussion Management Plan” for use by conference institutions, including baselines for return to academic and athletic activities (Big Ten, 2010);

• Conducted presidential discussions concerning the existing data and research regarding concussions in athletics and identified steps to enhance student-athlete safety (Ivy League, 2010);

• Developed a “Concussion Return to Play Checklist” and obtained agreement from athletic medicine staffs to use the checklist as a guide for their respective schools (Ivy League, 2011);

• Convened an ad hoc committee to review concussions in football and developed a series of recommendations, which were implemented in the fall of 2011, with the goal of lowering the incidence of concussion and subconcussive hits in football (Ivy League, 2011);

• Conducted a Head Injury Summit, with 40-plus attendees across several disciplines, including athletic medicine, neurology, neuropsychology, physics, engineering and biological sciences (Big Ten/CIC, 2011);

• Created a centralized data-sharing platform to enhance existing surveillance and research and accelerate new inquiries into concussions (Big Ten/CIC, 2011);

• Convened additional ad hoc committees to review concussions in men’s and women’s ice hockey, soccer and lacrosse and will make recommendations for those sports (Ivy League, 2012); and

• Launched a research initiative regarding how head injuries affect athletes in all sports (Big Ten/CIC, 2012).

 

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