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Caring, No Matter the Cost

Small schools are trying to find creative ways to live up to health and safety guidelines

Gustavus Adolphus College fields hundreds of athletes each year on 21 teams – with only three full-time athletic trainers to care for them.

So while Troy Banse, the school’s head athletic trainer, says he and the two members of his staff will work tirelessly to adhere to new health and safety recommendations, he warns that change at schools with limited resources and small staffs won’t happen instantly.

“It’s just a matter of if we have enough staff to do it at the time,” Banse says. “Some schools in our conference only have two athletic trainers.”

The NCAA Sport Science Institute has been working closely with top medical groups in recent years to formulate new, and ever-evolving, guidelines to keep student-athletes safer. While schools with abundant resources may not struggle to adhere to these standards, smaller schools across all divisions, particularly in Division III, face challenges.

“I’ve never met an athletic trainer who doesn’t feel stressed about lack of resources, and I’ve never met a president who doesn’t have any budgetary concerns,” says Lori Runksmeier, athletics director at Eastern Connecticut State University and former chair of the Division III Management Council. “There’s your problem.”

Given that tension, the Division III Management Council recommended at the 2016 Convention that the national office staff develop an advisory group composed of college presidents, athletics administrators and athletic trainers from all three divisions to address evolving health and safety guidelines. The group would work to find ways for schools of all sizes and financial means to implement health and safety recommendations.

But trainers like Banse are trying in the interim to find ways to meet higher standards of care within their means. He was able to secure $2,000 annually for baseline concussion testing. And he has formed a partnership with the school’s academic counseling office and disability services office to take concussed athletes through return-to-learn protocols. Banse says forming partnerships with others on campus has been integral to his small team’s ability to adhere to health and safety recommendations.

“It’s being creative in the way you can implement these things and using the resources that you have in hand; it’s reaching out to other practitioners who may be able to help you,” Banse says.

Forrest Karr, athletics director at Northern Michigan University and chair of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, says the committee takes budget impact into consideration when it works with the Sport Science Institute staff to review guidelines. But, Karr says, “ultimately, committee recommendations come down to doing what is right for student-athletes.”

And that’s the rub, Runksmeier says. She has worked as an athletics director at two institutions over the past two decades and says securing equipment such as automated external defibrillators has never been an issue. But meeting needs for athletic training staffing – which carries a far greater cost – has been a pain point for schools with tight budgets that are charged with living up to those important new standards.

“Obviously, the health and safety of our student-athletes is everybody’s main concern,” Runksmeier says. “How do we match that with changing costs and the cost of doing business?”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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