NCAA lacks injury rules

Inconsistency may cause liability issues from sport-induced concussions

The Sports Law Symposium held at Harvard Law School this past weekend brought to light the lack of a systematic legal protocol for sport-induced head injuries at the collegiate level.

Boston lawyer Matt Henshon, a former Princeton basketball player, said he believes this lack may result in legal challenges regarding the liability of injured players.

"[The current protocol is] either school by school or conference by conference," he said, discussing formal regulations regarding concussions.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association advises each school to develop individual strategies for dealing with head injuries.

"Each institution/conference should consult with its own sports medicine staff, legal counsel and athletics staff during the development and implementation of a plan," the NCAA's website says.

Without protocol restricting playing time for brain-injured players, "people are still getting hurt, and it's getting worse," Henshon said.

Most professional organizations such as the NFL have a defined list of protocol for players who suffer head injuries, he said. Henshon said "professional players understand the risk" and are compensated as a result.

Ethan Saliba, associate athletic director for sports medicine at the University, said head injuries may be getting worse as a result of "gear that allows athletes to run faster and hit harder."

The liability concerns may not be as great at Virginia as they are at other schools, Saliba said. He noted Virginia athletes are required to sign forms expressing they understand the risks and will report any symptoms to the medical staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helped create the form, which also provides signs and symptoms to look for, as well as the steps to take following an injury.

"The million dollar question is how long it takes to recover," Saliba said. "For some athletes it can take a few weeks and for others a few days. It all just depends on how long it takes the concussion to normalize."

The Virginia football team sustained a relatively low number of concussions this past year - nine - compared to the average number of concussions in a season - between 10 and 12, according to the football staff.

"It all comes down to whether or not players take [the dangers] seriously and understand the protocol for getting examined," Henshon said.

related stories