In the NFL we have publicly disclosed injuries, including concussions, so we can (and have) track the numbers that are reported to see if there is a change in outcomes. Certainly there are flaws with the reporting system as we have discussed many times but at least we can get a set of consistent numbers (we hope) from year to year.
But what about the NCAA, where there are many more players: 126 FBS teams at about 80 players per team means 10,080 players in FBS alone. Or, about 8,387 more football players than the NFL – this number does not include FCS, DII, DIII or even the NAIA or Juco football schools.
Timothy Bella of Al Jazeera America (I guess the NSA has my IP address now and yours too if you go to links, ha) has produced a great article on this problem of tracking concussions at the NCAA level;
For this college football season, America Tonight has been tracking all the publicly reported concussions in the 10 FBS conferences and the independent teams. Auburn was one of 42 FBS programs to not publicly report a single concussion this season, accounting for exactly one-third of the 126 FBS programs. The group includes Rose Bowl and Big Ten champion Michigan State and Big 12 champion Baylor.
In fact, in the 10 conferences and the independents, coaching staffs and media outlets only reported 192 concussions at all among more than 10,000 players, according to data compiled from early August 2013 to Dec. 27, 2013, in the America Tonight Concussion Map. That’s an average of fewer than two reported concussions per team.
That number is STRIKINGLY low – due to reasons outlined in article – but 192 concussions is less than the 217 concussions we found in the NFL from preseason through the end of the regular season.
I provided many thoughts to Bella about why this may be occurring, including the teams with higher press presence will likely have more publicly reported concussions, teams with a more “controlling” coach will have less and this thought;
Dustin Fink, a certified athletic trainer in Illinois and the founder of The Concussion Blog, believes that the concussion information that is made public is a reflection of how advanced a program’s training staff is on the issue.
“The schools that publicly report more concussions probably understand the injury more, and are probably less fearful and have more control,” Fink says. “They aren’t worried about perceptions.”
I do believe this, that AT’s and med staff’s that are more proactive and accepting of the injury are more likely to divulge the information when it is not in violation of HIPAA. Interesting to me that University of North Carolina does not have more information about concussions, I view them (along with Virginia Tech) as the leading edge of concussion research in football – at the very least have had the most money poured into it.
Perhaps Bella was poignant to reference the survey about athletic trainers and coaches in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. This can be and is an issue; not only in the NCAA but in all levels of sports.
So how do we fix the reporting problem? And does it need to be fixed?
The answer to the second question is yes, simply because how will we know if the changes we are making are doing any good. Just like the NFL numbers we track here, it is important to see if there are serial changes. And if so, what were the exact changes so we can either accentuate the positives or eliminate the negative impacts.
Fixing it can be quite simple, if the NCAA chooses to do so: create a mandatory logging database for each NCAA institution. Not only for football but for all concussions in all sports. The data could be massive in many different planes, but the biggest in my mind is overall concussion numbers from year to year. However, a wonderful side benefit would be seeing the schools that are above and below norms and investigate further into each of them. If they are on the low side, perhaps they are doing some real-world “good shit” that needs to be adapted across the board. If they are on the high side, maybe they are doing something that is easily identifiable so it can be changed.
The obvious conclusion is that the NCAA is doing nothing to help with this issue, which is a shame considering the vast number of concussions and help they could be providing.