The NCAA has released new guidelines for schools to help them do more to protect athletes in all sports. The move is the latest in the NCAA's effort to appease critics who feel the organization, which was formed to help student-athletes, is actually doing athletes a disservice.
The changes focus on health care and safety, particularly on concussions. Some highlights:
- Only two live contact practices per week during the season (and fewer total at other times)
- A more transparent concussion plan
- Medical authority independent of the coach's line of authority
It's important to note that unlike some of the other rule changes announced earlier in the offseason, these are merely "guidelines" for schools to follow, and not actually part of the rules. Currently, there are hardly any NCAA rules regarding athlete welfare.
The organization deregulated those rules awhile back because it did not want to be held legally responsible for athletes' injuries or insufficient protocols. The NCAA has denied in lawsuits regarding concussions that it has a "legal duty" to protect athletes, though its website states that it was founded to provide that very protection.
Right now, schools have the sole authority to determine medical protocols, and there is no uniform concussion protocol throughout Division I. Schools aren't even required to have doctors on the sideline to address concussion symptoms. The lack of oversight is part of the reason Northwestern football players fought to unionize and negotiate for better benefits. College Athletes Players Association president Ramogi Huma wasn't pleased with the new rules:
Huma also notes that guidelines do not define what contact means. Lots of hard hitting w/players in helmets and shorts -- does that count?— Tom Farrey (@TomFarrey) July 7, 2014
Huma told me @ncaa needs to adopt NFL/NFLPA agreed-upon standard -- contact defined by how players are asked to dress (helmets) at practice.— Tom Farrey (@TomFarrey) July 7, 2014
These guidelines are a way for the NCAA to provide a streamlined protocol and create expectations without being held responsible for the implementation (or, possible, lack thereof) in court. Schools won't be forced to change their heath care measures, but many of them are likely to comply, which is better than than the current practice.