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NCAA, DOD launch Mind Matters Challenge

$4 million educational grand challenge seeks to change concussion culture

The NCAA and U.S. Department of Defense are now accepting proposals for the Mind Matters Challenge, a $4 million educational grand challenge aimed at changing concussion safety behaviors.

This initiative includes grants up to $400,000 for scientific research to improve understanding of how to effect cultural change regarding concussions, and awards up to $100,000 for an educational programs challenge to identify entities that create materials in the area of concussion education aimed at at-risk populations.

Too often, student-athletes fail to report head injuries and return to play before sufficiently recovering from a concussion – behaviors with significant short- and long-term consequences. The reasons why they do so are many: fear of letting down the team, peer pressure, and unspoken dynamics set by coaches or athletic trainers. Perhaps even more important are the factors that are not well-understood or easily identified.

The Mind Matters Challenge is part of the NCAA-Department of Defense Grand Alliance, a $30 million initiative launched this year to advance understanding of how to change culture, attitudes and behavior in young and emerging adults about concussions arising from sports- and military-related activities. The goal of the program is to improve concussion awareness education programs delivered to student-athletes, service members and their influencers so that all clearly understand a concussion is a serious medical condition requiring appropriate treatment – just like a knee injury, eye injury, or broken bone. And that they act accordingly.

“To appropriately treat concussive injuries, we need to begin by knowing the injury occurred. This may seem very basic, but it is one of the greatest challenges we face,” said Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer. “Because each person’s symptoms and recovery differ, we need to create a culture on every sideline and in every training room that encourages immediate, full reporting and treatment.”

Two challenges in one

The challenge is broken down to focus on two important areas related to concussion: changing attitudes about concussions in young adults (a research challenge); and educational programs targeting young adults (an educational programs challenge). 

The research challenge seeks to fund applied scientific research to improve understanding of how to prompt cultural change in the target communities. In addition to benefiting student-athletes on the field of play, the outcomes also will benefit military and civilian populations. Up to 10 research grants of up to $400,000 each will be awarded.

The goal of the educational programs challenge is to identify entities with the expertise and capability to create compelling and impactful educational materials for student-athletes and other at-risk populations in the area of concussion education, based on the best information available today. Cash prizes up to $100,000 will be awarded to participants in the educational programs challenge, who will also vie for the opportunity to provide a demonstration package to the NCAA.

Additionally, future opportunities may exist for top respondents in the educational programs challenge to collaborate with the NCAA to produce a detailed educational program in conjunction with other experts.

Those interested in participating in the challenge can learn more, ask questions and apply here.


Phase One for both challenges will close in February, and a judging panel composed of experts from the scientific community, military, college athletics and student-athletes will review proposals and select those who will continue into Phase Two. The NCAA and the Department of Defense expect to make final awards by the end of 2015.

"This Grand Alliance presents an unprecedented opportunity to advance the field of concussion science while educating our force and their families, increasing our chances of full recovery, and decreasing the number of future injuries," said Major General Nadja Y. West, Joint Staff Surgeon at the Pentagon.

Concussion study underway

The NCAA-Department of Defense Grand Alliance also is funding the most comprehensive study of concussion and head impact exposure ever conducted. Its aim is to more accurately diagnose, treat and prevent concussion among NCAA student-athletes, service members and the broader public. The study, which launched this fall, will enroll an estimated 25,000 male and female NCAA student-athletes over the three-year study period at 16 schools, including all four military academies. Participants receive a comprehensive preseason evaluation for concussion and will be monitored in the event of an injury.