The NCAA's own injury data revealed that its football players totaled over 3,000 concussions a year over a recent five-year span. Just as troubling for college sports are court documents that reveal NCAA officials brushing aside concerns about the issue.
Nathan Fenno of the Washington Times inspected 1,000 pages of internal NCAA documents and depositions filed in court Friday as part of a lawsuit that former Eastern Illinois defensive back Adrian Arrington is trying to turn into a class-action suit. In one exchange, two NCAA officials criticized David Klossner, the NCAA's director of health and safety.
"Dave is hot/heavy on the concussion stuff," wrote Ty Halpin, the director of playing rules administration. "He's been trying to force our rules committees to put in rules that are not good - I think I've finally convinced him to calm down."
"He reminds me of a cartoon character," responded Nicole Bracken, the associate director of research.
"HA! I think you're right about that!" Halpin wrote.
A total of 29,225 concussions were reported across all NCAA sports from 2004-09, and 16,277 of those came from football, CBSsports.com's Mike Freeman said based on the court documents.
Arrington filed the original lawsuit in 2011, but his attorneys have since filed to a federal judge to allow it to become a class-action case. On Friday, hours before the filing, the NCAA announced a $399,999 grant to study the long-term impact of head injuries, according to the Associated Press. The AP also had this statement from the NCAA:
"Student-athlete safety is one of the NCAA's foundational principles," said spokeswoman Stacey Osburn. "The NCAA has been at the forefront of safety issues throughout its existence."
Osburn said the NCAA has been proactive in addressing head-injury issues with a combination of rules changes, equipment advances and medical practices, Osburn said. In the upcoming season, a new rule will automatically eject any player who targets and hits a defenseless player above the shoulders.
The documents make clear that the NCAA left policies on concussions up to its member institutions instead of any centralized control. In an October 2010 email, director of enforcement Craig Strobel made clear the NCAA can only punish a school for not having a policy in place, but it can do nothing if a school does not police its code by putting players back on the field too quickly after suffering concussions. According to the documents, even that low level of enforcement never happened.