COLUMN: Increase Collegiate Injury Research

Injuries have taken a prominent position in football, both at the NCAA and NFL levels. The spotlight has been put on concussions in particular. But is enough being done?

In 2011, the NCAA found that the concussion rate per 1000 plays at the FBS football level was 2.4. The study found that there was a sharp increase over the course of 20 years, but that increase leveled off in 2011-12.

The numbers get even more complex, with different rates for different football helmets. According to a Virginia Tech study, the Riddell Revolution has the best concussion rating for NCAA football helmets, reducing the chance of a concussion by 54% when compared to other helmets.

But these numbers all have the same fatal flaw: they rely on the honest reporting of concussion by the teams and their medical staff. According to a study done by Harvard University and Boston University, only 1 in 27 concussions are actually reported. The vast majority of football players played through the injury.

Other collegiate sports haven’t received the same attention.  

And it's time that they should.

Contact sports, including lacrosse, have the highest concussion and injury risk associated with them. Other collegiate sports are starting to receive the same attention.

The Virginia Tech lacrosse team, as well as both men’s and women’s soccer and the football team, will undergo Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, or ImPACT, prior to the start of the season and will also undergo periodic testing during the season. The athletes will also wear sensors that monitor the head trauma during both practice and games.

ImPACT testing involves creating a baseline for the athlete by testing their attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, and non-verbal problem solving. When under suspect of a concussion, the athlete takes the test again to see how the results compare to the pre-season test the athlete took.

This is the same kind of test that Virginia Tech football players have undergone, but only recently has the test expanded to other athletic programs.

As a whole, the injury attention has been primarily focused on NCAA football and the NFL. With the exception of the expansion of the recent Virginia Tech monitoring program, research on other collegiate athletic has been minimal.

This has to improve.

Even with limited data, women’s soccer and both men’s and women’s lacrosse have the highest non-football concussion rates amongst collegiate athletes.

There are a few ways that this can be readily improved.

First, the NCAA needs to invest the same amount of money into research on these other sports. This will help develop better, safer equipment for these athletes to use.

Football keeps having rule changes to make the game safer, such as moving the touchback line forward to decrease the amount of kickoff returns. Other athletic programs need to have similar rule changes to make the respective sports safer.

Lastly, the NCAA needs to have harsher punishments for incorrect reporting on concussions. The schools and athletes need to know that not reporting a concussion will have severe consequences.

Athletes themselves also need to honestly self-report any concussion symptoms. There isn’t anything to gain by playing through one or hiding from the medical staff.

Collegiate athletes need to receive the same attention when it comes to injuries.

Concussion testing and diagnosing in football has improved greatly in recent years. But it's time that more contact sports get the same treatment.

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