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Proposed NCAA Accountability Act addresses head injuries

Frustrated over the recent disciplinary actions taken against Ohio State University and Penn State, lawmakers from Ohio and Pennsylvania are taking on the NCAA at the federal level. A new bill, entitled the National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act, is being touted by its sponsors as a bipartisan effort, designed to “improve the health and education of student athletes and to require greater accountability and transparency from the NCAA.” Only six pages in length, the bill encompasses topics ranging from head injuries to pay-for-play.

Introduced to Congress by Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), the proposed legislation would withhold federal funding from schools that are NCAA members unless the organization makes significant policy changes, including:

  • Requiring annual baseline concussion testing for all student athletes participating in contact and limited-contact sports before an athlete can participate – even for practices
  • Mandatory four year scholarships for athletes participating in contact/collision sports instead of on a year-to-year basis
  • Establishing due process to student athletes and member institutions found in violation of NCAA rules by requiring an administrative hearing and at least one appeal
  • Permitting institutions to provide stipends (payment) to athlete

While this legislation addresses several important (and potentially contentious) issues, let’s focus on the first policy change listed above. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury with serious side effects and future health implications. The NCAA is currently facing a slew of lawsuits alleging they did not have sufficient safety measures in place to protect students from head injuries. An internal NCAA survey from 2010 found that nearly half of the college trainers indicated they put athletes showing signs of a concussion back into the same game – something that experts say should never be done.

Concussion baseline tests

Currently, the NCAA only recommends that colleges perform concussion baseline tests and the organization reports that about two-thirds of schools are already complying. At Elk & Elk, we think a compulsory baseline is an excellent idea. If an athlete sustains a head injury, comparing post-injury test results to baseline test results can help doctors determine the extent of the injury and when he or she may safely return to play.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), baseline testing is a pre-season exam which should be conducted by a trained health care professional. These tests are used to assess an athlete’s balance and brain function (including learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and how quickly he or she thinks and solve problems), as well as for the presence of any concussion symptoms.

Considerations for younger athletes

For youth sports, Ohio has strict rules about head injuries. Earlier this year, the Return to Play Law went into effect. Among other things, the law requires coaches and referees to remove any child (18 and under) from athletic activities if he or she is exhibiting symptoms of having suffered a concussion. For more information, see our previous blog: “Ohio’s Return to Play Law – what you need to know.”

It will be interesting to see if the NCAA bill will gain any traction. Some legal analysts have criticized the bill’s simplicity, but like any proposed legislation, it will likely undergo many changes before a final revision comes up for vote.

You can read the full legislation here:

Final NCAA Bill Language


Introducing the NCAA Accountability Act: Two members of Congress propose bipartisan bill” by Jon Solomon, Birmingham News via AL.com, August 1, 2013.