Concussions suffered by college football players in games were 26 percent lower last year than seven years earlier, according to a study conducted for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The survey by Indianapolis-based Datalys Center showed the incidence of concussions in all three football divisions was 2.5 per 1,000 players who took the field for a game in the 2011-12 season as compared to 3.4 per 1,000 in 2004-05.
David Klossner, the NCAA’s director of health and safety, called the findings encouraging and said more data needs to be gathered over a longer period before firm conclusions can be drawn.
“Over the past 10 to 15 years we’ve had more awareness, so you’d speculate you’d see higher incidence than in the past,” Klossner said in a telephone interview. “But we see a leveling off, and that’s hopefully a good sign.”
The NCAA has made rules and policy changes since 2002 to improve player safety. In 2008, it made the horse-collar tackle illegal, and placed more emphasis on eliminating hits on defenseless players and blows to the head. Players weren’t permitted to initiate contact and target an opponent with the crown of their helmets, and no player was permitted to target a defenseless opponent above the shoulders.
That same year, the association required a conference review of fouls related to targeting/initiating contact to players. If a foul wasn’t called, conferences were allowed to review plays and impose sanctions.
In 2010, college sports’ governing body required that injured athletes, including those showing signs of a concussion, be cleared by medical personnel before returning to competition. Injured players had to sit out a play.
It also outlawed wedge-blocking formations of three or more players after research showed that one of every five injuries occurring on kickoffs resulted in a concussion.
There are 67,887 players on 644 football teams in the three divisions. The survey didn’t break the data down by division or team, the NCAA said.
When the study was broadened to include men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and volleyball for both games and practice, the 0.6 concussions rate per 1,000 players was flat during the same period, according to Datalys figures.
The data depends on schools identifying and then reporting concussions, Klossner said. Without a scientific study, the NCAA says, concussions can be missed.
The NCAA said in March that it would provide a $400,000 grant to study 1,000 male and female athletes in 11 sports over a four-year period.
The study, to be conducted at the universities of Michigan, North Carolina and California-Los Angeles, will follow athletes through their careers to understand the effects of contact on the brain. It will provide the sort of detailed information about concussion symptoms, treatment and repeat incidence the NCAA needs to help improve player health, Klossner said.
“Right now, we’re looking at samples of NCAA schools that are reporting injuries to us through a third party, but it’s a small sample of schools and it doesn’t look at the care being provided to those athletes or the interventions being put into place,” Klossner said. “It’s just getting the incidence of injuries.”