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New survey results paint alarming picture of NCAA safety

Over three years ago, the Power Five conferences revealed new rules to better prioritize the safety of student athletes. Under these new rules, medical staffs around the country have the last word on whether a student athlete can participate in team workouts, practices and games, while coaches no longer have the unilateral authority to hire or fire athletic trainers.

However, new survey results from the National Athletic Trainers Association suggest there is still much more to be done.

NATA’s survey, which polled around 1,800 collegiate athletic trainers, found 19 percent of interviewed trainers believe college coaches have allowed a student athlete to play while he or she was “medically out of participation.” The survey also shows 36 percent of the trainers believe the coaching staff has been able to influence the hiring and firing of the sports medicine staff, despite the guideline requiring otherwise; of those respondents, 58 percent then reported feeling pressured by a coach or administrator to make a decision “not in the best interest of a student-athlete’s health.”

A big part of the issue seems to be connected with teams’ strength and conditioning staff and their current place on the “chain of command.” Although the staff members who design the players’ workouts do not have to be licensed medical professionals (while most athletic trainers do), strength and conditioning staff report to head coaches, not the trainers or administrators.

A new NCAA recommendation, which will go into effect August 1, changes that. Going forward, strength coaches should report to sports medicine supervisors, not the head coach.

“Coaches might question an athlete’s toughness. [They] might say, ‘She’s just not tough enough. Don’t you think this ankle sprain has taken long enough?‘ And those types of conversations are some of the more benign but impactful ways in which health care providers feel pressure,” NATA president Tory Lindley said. “A coach should not have any type of an opportunity to provide an opinion on whether or not those decisions are being made correctly. They lack the medical expertise to provide an opinion.”

When players come back before they are physically ready to resume competition, they risk greater injury. And while everyone wants their team to win games, no one wants to cause permanent damage to these young men and women in the process. The survey results paint an alarming picture of college athletics, but the approval of new NCAA recommendations shows the first step toward a safer organization. Now, everyone just has to abide by them.

Article written by Maggie Davis

I love sports, podcasts, long walks on the beach and Twitter (@MaggieDavisKSR)