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NCAA $70million concussion fund will include soccer players, but it fails to address treatment and prevention

Lawsuits are finally forcing policy change in how the NCAA handles concussions.

Concussion helmets may be the way of soccer's future
Concussion helmets may be the way of soccer's future
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday the NCAA agreed to set up a $70-million fund for current and former college athletes to be tested for brain trauma as part of a settlement in a concussion lawsuit. Athletes who have competed in any contact sports in any division in the past 50 years may qualify for physical examinations, neurological measurements, and neurocognitive assessments. An additional $5 million will be put toward concussion research and education. What it won't include is money for treatment for athletes who are found to have brain damage.This settlement doesn't prevent athletes from suing the NCAA or their university for personal injury damages.

It also fails to address prevention of concussions and brain damage. As part of the settlement the NCAA will be introducing return-to-play guidelines which they haven't had including:

  • Baseline concussion testing of NCAA student-athletes.
  • Student-athletes with a diagnosed concussion will not be allowed to return to play or practice on the same day, and must be cleared by a physician.
  • Medical personnel with training in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions must be present for all games and available during all practices.
  • Establish a process for schools to report diagnosed concussions and their resolution.
It's hard to believe that in 2014 the organization that oversees college athletics in the United States didn't have any such policy. Previously they had 'suggestions' but it was up to each member school how they handled players returning to the field.

Typically when people think of concussions and concussion lawsuits they think of American football, however, concussions can be sustained in any contact, and if you're really graceful non-contact, sport. In fact, women's soccer is second only to football in the number of reported concussions. It is estimated that between 4 to 20 percent of all soccer injuries are head injuries. While heading a ball may seem like the likely culprit for concussions it is often a knee or elbow to the head that causes concussions in soccer.

In late 2013 a former Samford University soccer player filed a lawsuit against the NCAA alleging that the NCAA was aware of, but failed to communicate to student-athletes, the health and safety risks associated with repeated concussions as well as the increased susceptibility to suffer a concussion after suffering from an initial concussion.The player, Mary Shelton Wells, suffered a brain injury while playing soccer and was forced to end her athletic career after being declared medically ineligible.

While much has been done to improve helmets in football to reduce concussions little has been done in soccer since there is little to no gear. The University of New Haven will be using impact sensors to monitor men's and women's soccer players for head trauma in addition to their football players. We have started to see and I suspect we will continue to see a rise in the number of players who wear protective head gear on the field. Many players, like former Houston Dynamo player Calen Carr and current player Ricardo Clark, begin wearing the concussion helmets after they have already sustained a concussion. After sustaining a concussion players are more susceptible to sustaining a second concussion and opt for the head wear.

In an effort to prevent that first concussion from ever happening proper heading techniques are often preached as well as an increase in children who start out wearing concussion helmets. A growing number of youth leagues throughout the country have started to require that players wear some sort protective gear for their heads despite some experts who say that such gear doesn't help prevent concussion. As players who are used to playing with a helmet reach college we will see an increase in concussion helmets on college fields and as those players start to reach college current changes in the NCAA will help. As litigation continues against the NCAA they will finally be forced to face concussion issues and work to prevent them rather than simply reacting to the injury. While it shouldn't take litigation for the NCAA to care about player safety that is that it has come down to. Now that concussions will begin to cost them money the NCAA will change its policies to save itself and who knows in ten years there may not be an NCAA.