Intended Consequences Lead to Unintended Issues: NCAA Settlement

Dustin.Fink Dustin Fink

Sure the lede looks backwards, but the overwhelming point, in my opinion, of the NCAA recent settlement on concussions has to deal with my profession of athletic training.  The issue is athletic trainers; the need for more of them and what happens if you cannot find them or afford them?

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that attention is being paid to the need for athletic trainers — although the wording does not explicitly name our profession, rather “medical professional” — is tremendous and often overlooked.  Sure, you can have a doctor on the sidelines, but what is their cost?  Perhaps there are some semantics that would allow other medical professionals to be in attendance, but what would be their experience, education and knowledge about concussions?  And how cost/time effective would it be to have another “medical professional” that didn’t have the ability to assess, treat, manage, and rehab other injuries that occur on a sporting field?

In other words, this is an awesome advertisement and endorsement for athletic training.

But there is an issue, as stated in the Chronicle of Higher Education;

Colleges have their own concerns about the settlement, including a requirement that they have a medical professional on the sidelines for every practice and game in the highest-contact sports: basketball, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and wrestling.

While many big athletics programs already provide such coverage, lower-level NCAA institutions will be hard-pressed to afford it, several athletics officials said.

The requirement could lead colleges to use graduate assistants or others with little medical training, or to cut sports altogether over fears of liability.

“I’m worried about the financial fallout from this, and how it will impact Division II and Division III, and how it’s enforced,” said Tim Kelly, head athletic trainer at the U.S. Military Academy and a former member of the NCAA’s Football Rules Committee. “I’ve always wondered, Do too many schools provide too many sports at a level that’s not effective?”

If you have spent time in the “lower levels” of NCAA sports or even the NAIA you would note the very understaffed sports medicine team compared to the “big boys”.  This is no fault of the fine institutions, rather an economic issue.  From personal experience I can tell you that being a head athletic trainer at a DII school pays less than being in the private sector, say an athletic trainer for a hospital/provider that outsources you to schools.  Often, if they are State funded schools there is a cap on salary, even for the best/highly qualified athletic trainer there is no bump in starting salary.

In my region we are starting to see Universities and Colleges outsourcing their athletic training duties to such providers.  The institutions can create a contract to offset the cost of the staffing with advertisements and exposure for the providers.  Leaving the salary and benefits up to the provider.  This may be the model we are heading toward.

In all honesty, it may be the best for the times.  If an athletic trainer is being paid by someone other than the institution there would be less control by a coach.  Unless, there is pressure of losing a contract if a sports med staffer didn’t cave to a very powerful coach.  However, the chances of this happening in small towns, with limited provider partnerships would allow for more autonomy for the athletic trainer and staff.

Regardless of the pending approval this is a good time to recognize the absolute need for athletic trainers at all levels.  Not just DI or DII or even DIII; all the way down to the youth level.  But there will be a price to pay for the need and support.  It may be uncomfortable for the wallet but it will be much more comfortable when injury does occur, with someone highly trained there to take care of it.

Schools will now have to make such difficult decisions in regards to medical coverage (although I have not seen a mechanism for enforcement yet).  Its time to think outside the box and find a way to get more athletic trainers out on the field, where we belong!