Many playing rule changes have the potential to impact student-athlete health and safety, even if they’re proposed for entirely different reasons. At a June 5-7 meeting in Salt Lake City, the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports called for playing rules and sport committees to evaluate the health and safety implications of every rule change and to involve the competitive safeguards committee and Sport Science Institute whenever such potential exists.
Occasionally, rules are changed primarily to address a health and safety risk. More often, though, a rule is changed in order to ensure fairness or to adapt to changes in playing styles or equipment in a given sport. Though those rules aren’t changed to address a health and safety concern, the committee noted that they can still have a health and safety impact.
A prime example is a recent proposal from the Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Committee that would require schools to add 10-inch pegs to their rinks that goals would rest upon in order to keep them more firmly anchored in place. The committee wanted to add the pegs so that goalies can’t intentionally bump the goal off of its spot in order to stop play and negate an offensive threat. The committee’s discussion took place amid the context of competitive fairness, but there are potential health and safety implications of the goal being more difficult to move – players careening into a goal sitting on those pegs could, potentially, be at greater risk.
So the competitive safeguards committee emerged from its meeting with a statement calling for all discussions of playing rule changes to include an evaluation of health and safety implications, even if the rule change, such as the hockey recommendation, wasn’t proposed for reasons related to health and safety. The committee asked that the NCAA Sport Science Institute and playing rules staffs develop a collaborative formal review process and report their progress at the committee’s December meeting.
“We are working with the Playing Rules Oversight Panel to improve the communication strategies between the panel, rules committees and the competitive safeguards committee,” said committee chair and Harvard head athletic trainer Brant Berkstresser. “This would also include medical safeguards committee communication with a rules committee about a current rule we may be studying from a health and safety standpoint.”
- In a January football safety summit that brought together medical experts from an array of fields and representatives from major Division I athletic conferences, the group began crafting a consensus statement regarding year-round football practice contact guidelines. The original document set guidelines for both the number of days full contact/full pads are allowed and the number of days pads can be worn.
Based on considerable input from athletic health care providers, coaches, and administrators, the original document was revised to differentiate full-contact from full-pad practices, and to rather focus on a succinct definition of live-tackling regardless of whether practice was conducted in full-pads or half-pads (commonly known as “shell” pads). The competitive safeguards committee agreed that the amended document should exclude reference to pads, and that the focus should be on decreasing contact regardless of the uniform. The committee members also stressed that even though the summit focused on DI concerns, the guidelines should be rolled out to all three NCAA divisions.
The revised document, which will be circulated back to all the major conferences and medical organizations for input, calls for no more than two live-contact practices per week, with a total in-season number of live-contact practices not to exceed 1.5 times the number of weeks in the regular season. (For example, in a 14-week season, no more than 21 live-contact practices would be allowed.) There are no limitations on the number of days players can take the field in full pads.
We felt it was important to emphasize that aspect of the language and put less emphasis on what equipment or part of the uniform was being worn,” Berkstresser said. “By emphasizing the goal of limiting contact exposure instead of uniform this would also allow flexibility for the coaches to give student-athletes the opportunity to wear full pads if the coaches felt this would be beneficial from a conditioning or other safety standpoint.”
- The committee recommended simplifying the definition of the penalty for a positive drug test to provide clarity and consistency in application. Currently, if student-athletes test positive for a banned substance, they lose a year of eligibility and are withheld from competition for 365 days from the test collection, and then are required to be withheld for any additional contests they participated in between the time of collection and the confirmation of a positive test. The committee suggested removing the latter caveat in order to maintain the severity of the punishment but simplify the rule.
- After a lengthy discussion of the NCAA’s current drug deterrence model, the committee recommended that a half-day summit take place alongside the committee’s December meeting to address the shape of the drug program. The summit will broach the roles and responsibilities of the NCAA national office, conferences and institutions; increased testing to deter performance-enhancing drug use; implications and strategies for adding stimulants to NCAA year-round testing; and effective strategies to deter alcohol and other recreational drug use, among other topics.