NCAA on the defensive in concussion lawsuit

THE NCAA REACTED STRONGLY this weekend to a lawsuit that says the association was lax in establishing a clear policy about dealing with concussions, leaving key decisions to individual schools or leagues. The NCAA says it has taken the appropriate steps to protect student athletes from head injuries. There's a potential problem with that claim, however, and it comes from the NCAA itself.

Attached to the class-action request from those suing the NCAA is a report for the plaintiffs by a leading authority on concussions, Robert Cantu, who cites an internal NCAA survey from 2010.

He said the NCAA itself found that nearly half of the college trainers who responded to the survey indicated they put athletes showing signs of a concussion back into the same game.

"It is well settled in the scientific community that an athlete must never be returned to play on the same day after a concussion diagnosis," said Cantu, who is medical director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The NCAA said in response Saturday that player safety is among the college sports association's core principles.

It is generally accepted the majority of concussions and head injuries come in practice in college football. The NFL recently implemented a change at the insistence of the players union that only one full contact practice can take place during game weeks. The NCAA has yet to implement any similar concussion protocol. Critics say that ambiguity is by design — in order to remain legally blameless.

CONCUSSIONS AND TCE ((chronic traumatic encephalopathy) have become a major concern in sports in recent years. The NFL, NHL and college football, among others, have implemented stricter rules on both hits to the head and player safety.

The Pac-12 will institute its own policy this year beyond the measures of what the NCAA has in place. The conference is expected to announce the details of that program at Pac-12 Media Day on July 26.

Attorneys suing the NCAA over its handling of head injuries asked a federal judge Friday to let them expand the lawsuit to include thousands of plaintiffs nationwide. The motion seeking class-action status was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, where the original lawsuit was filed in 2011 on behalf of former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington and several other former athletes.

Arrington contends he suffered "numerous and repeated concussions" at Eastern Illinois. He is seeking unspecified monetary damages and changes in policy, including the establishment of a long-term medical monitoring program for injured athletes and new concussion guidelines for schools and coaches.

"The NCAA has been at the forefront of safety issues throughout its existence," said spokeswoman Stacey Osburn.

She said the association has addressed the issue of head injuries through a combination of playing rules, equipment requirements and medical practices. The NCAA does not believe the legal action is appropriate, Osburn said.

The NFL is currently involved in a lawsuit involving more than 4,000 former players seeking millions of dollars for problems they blame on head injuries suffered during their careers.

The NCAA said it has taken recent steps to increase awareness of how to treat possible head injuries, from legislation and outreach efforts to new rules on the playing field. On Friday, the NCAA said it was awarding a $399,999 grant to fund a study into the long-term effects of head injuries in college sports.

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