How Do We Know If Anything Is Working at NCAA Level?

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.

6 thoughts on “How Do We Know If Anything Is Working at NCAA Level?

  1. jbloggs January 14, 2014 / 16:52

    Like the NFL the NCAA simply cooks its data. It shares many of the same doctors and are subject to no oversight.

    These organizations are simply digging their own graves.

  2. Tom January 15, 2014 / 15:35

    A lot of this (mandatory logging database for each NCAA institution) already exists with the Datalys Center, it’s more a matter of how the data is reported. Also, are you really arguing for requiring athletic trainers to perform additional mundane administrative tasks beyond providing for the health and well being of the student-athlete??

    I’m certainly not a lawyer, but I wonder about the legality of mandating PUBLIC reporting of these injuries – you would have to deal with HIPPA & FERPA (not applicable in the professional settings) laws. Maybe you could argue that the total number per institution should be reported as opposed to Joe Smith suffered a concussion on Sept 21st. I don’t think you could argue there is a public right to know in this case. Also, the professional sports leagues have unions and collective bargaining agreements which, to my understanding, substantially alters the discussion. Of course, the Ed O’Bannon case could fundamentally change the NCAA as we know it.

    • Dustin Fink January 16, 2014 / 09:37

      I am not advocating more tasks for the AT, I am advocating that the collection of information be used correctly… It is not a HIPAA or FERPA violation if you report this team had ‘X’ concussions… And then get a number from year to year…

      There are more cases than O’Bannon out there that WILL change the face of the NCAA as it relates to injuries…

      • Tom January 17, 2014 / 06:23

        I disagree with your premise on HIPPA & FERPA. As we’ve seen today with the (academic) UNC whistle-blower, the university has forced her to stop releasing information which is potentially identifiable of individual students. If an institution only had a small number of concussions, one could argue that the same principle would apply. That said, the NCAA already has a lot of this information available to it in the Datalys Center. I like the idea overall, you should contact Brian Hainline ( there and see if they’ll release a report with this information annually.

        One challenge I believe the NCAA is facing on this is the diverse array of reporting mechanisms and platforms. This either requires Datalys to do a lot post-processing to make it all make sense or the NCAAA to mandate a specific reporting instrument of all institutions (no political headaches there….).

        As for more work, yes – if an institution does not currently electronically track injury rates or report to the NCAA, then it would, by definition, require more work on behalf of somebody to do the reporting. While this would presumably be easy for a large staff, what about the massively understaffed institutions? It may start with just reporting the number, but would likely grow and grow and grow like most bureaucratic initiatives.

        One last thought on the “map”. Interesting that UNC and Pitt of all places publicly reported zero and one concussions respectively. Finally, I have serious doubts about the accuracy of that map as my institution had a large number of football concussions, many widely reported in local media and during televised games, but we do not show up on the map at all.


      • Dustin Fink January 17, 2014 / 09:54

        Thanks Tom,

        Love the discussion, this is how things get done!

        As for the map, I agree with you – however one guy doing it its about as good as it gets. I had a former writer here who attempted it for 4 weeks during a college season; he found 90ish but stopped because it was too cumbersome…

  3. Scott L. Bruce January 16, 2014 / 18:25

    As much as I hate to disagree with Dustin Fink, especially since he has been so right on so many other concussion related issues, I must disagree with his assertion that “the concussion information that is made public is a reflection of how advanced a program’s training staff is on the issue.” I know of programs that are very advanced in their concussion research and management practices where concussion information is kept from the public because an athletic team/program does not wish to subject itself to public scrutiny. The criticism associated with how a concussion is managed in many cases is not something a program wishes to deal with. It is easier to just not report the information than deal with the negative consequences.

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