While a lawsuit is questioning the NCAA’s method of handling brain injury in federal court, Congress is stepping in to attempt to protect the brains of college level athletes in contact sports. Two members of Congress introduced legislation on Thursday, August 1st, that would mandate that colleges perform baseline concussion testing on athletes who play contact sports. As ThinkProgress reports, the bill has bipartisan backing as it was introduced by Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Joyce Beatty (D-OH).
Baseline testing consists of pre-season tests which every athlete takes. Then, if a player reports feeling like they suffered a concussion or took a potentially brain injury causing hit (such as one that knocks off the helmet), players can be retested and their scores compared against the earlier baseline test. It allows better evidence for health care professionals to quickly decide if a player seems safe to return to the field, or if they should be put on the sidelines. Roughlytwo-thirds of all schools require baseline testing, according to a 2010 NCAA survey. It is possible that number has risen as concussions have become a prominent parts in the brain injury discussion.
The NCAA does have recommendations on how concussions should be treated, but it doesn’t have standardized rules across the league. Instead, the responsibility for creating a concussion plan is put on the colleges, who must submit concussion management plans and protocols for the NCAA’s approval. However, there is evidence the NCAA doesn’t penalize schools that do not submit such plans.
The legislation also attempts to remove potential penalties players can suffer for reporting an injury like a brain injury by requiring Division I schools to provide multi-year scholarships. This way, if a player is injured they won’t lost their financial aid or spot on the team. This means players should be less likely to hide or “play through” their injuries.
However, the one big fault of this legislation is that it wouldn’t address the biggest issue in the NCAA’s concussion non-requirements. The NCAA does not have return-to-play standards, which had led to nearly 50 percent of schools putting players with possible concussions back into play before they’ve even spoken with a doctor, putting them at risk for much more serious brain injuries.
Normally most would be against Congress stepping in to try to implement rules on our favorite sports, but the fact that this action seems reasonable shows how widespread the problem is and how behind the NCAA is on concussion standards.