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Brian Burnsed | | February 19, 2016

College football: Experts work to update football safety guidelines

New data gathered from landmark concussion research could soon shape recommendations for how football is played and practiced.

Experts gathered at the Safety in College Football Summit last week agreed to suggested revisions to football practice and concussion management guidelines.

Though athletic trainers, physicians, concussion researchers, university administrators, football coaches and representatives from leading sports medicine organizations who took part in the summit – convened by the NCAA Sport Science Institute and the College Athletic Trainers’ Society – reached general consensus on the recommendations, an updated set of guidelines are several months away. Published revisions must be endorsed by several prominent medical and coaching associations.

The changes will be an update to guidelines developed at the first Safety in College Football Summit in 2014. The updates are based on new data researchers presented at the summit related to concussion, exposure to contact during football practices and games, and the ability of sensors to accurately measure head impacts. The group relied on those data during its discussions in Orlando, Florida, last week.

“The first Safety in College Football Summit produced three important consensus-driven documents,” NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said. “Two years later, we are in a great position to update these documents with new empirical data.”

The three principal investigators for the NCAA-Department of Defense Grand Alliance CARE Consortium concussion study – Steven Broglio, director of the University of Michigan’s NeuroTrauma Research Laboratory; Michael McCrea, director of brain injury research at the Medical College of Wisconsin; and Tom McAllister, chair of Indiana University School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry – shared preliminary findings from the study’s first 18 months. With more than 25 million data points collected so far, the researchers were able to provide a snapshot of their initial findings and will present a more thorough analysis of the data in the coming months.

The preliminary data they shared sparked discussions that will help shape changes to the current football safety and concussion guidelines.

“The new CARE Consortium data is the largest dataset in the history of concussion research, and will help guide policy, rules and future research,” Hainline said.  

Among the topics where the group reached agreement: how to limit contact during the preseason – as well as other high-risk practice periods, including the spring – while still allowing enough time for coaches to teach proper blocking and tackling techniques. Based on the data presented by researchers from schools across the country, recommendations could include limiting overall exposure to contact and providing contact-free recovery days.”

While football and concussion were at the center of the discussions and the summit members were joined by the NCAA Football Rules Committee for a portion of the meeting, the group also broached several other topics, including catastrophic head and neck injury; heat exhaustion and cardiac events; and independent medical care.

Hainline and the Sport Science Institute will work with medical and coaching organizations in the coming months to update the 2014 guidelines for football practice contact and concussion diagnosis and management. New guidelines for preventing catastrophic injury are also forthcoming. All of these revised guidelines will be published and made available to NCAA member schools after they have been refined and endorsed by the medical and coaching groups.

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