Power Five group passes new concussion measures

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A rule approved at the 2016 NCAA convention requiring school medical professionals have independent and final authority in deciding when an athlete returns to play from a concussion or other injury drew lofty praise Friday.

“I believe it’s the most important legislation in the history of the NCAA,” said Brian Hainline, the organization’s chief medical officer and a neurologist. “It really defines who the primary athletics health-care providers are.”

Schools already are required to have concussion protocols. But officials say the new rule — proposed by the Big 12 and approved overwhelmingly Friday in San Antonio by the NCAA’s major conferences —spells out who the primary medical providers in decision-making roles are and sets a firm boundary between them and coaches, trainers and athletes.

Further, the rule prohibits coaches from hiring, retaining or dismissing team doctors or trainers, officials said.

Chris Plonsky, the University of Texas director of women’s athletics, wouldn’t go as far as Hainline in praising the rule. She said physicians and trainers at UT already control when an athlete can return to play, and says most schools do the same. But she said it was good to have it in writing.

“Our students are other people’s children,” Plonsky said. “As a parent, I’d want to know who makes that decision.”

Hainline said even if an athlete seeks a second opinion, the school’s medical personnel still have the final say.

He added that the rule should prevent attempts by coaches or anyone else to pressure the medical staff to get an athlete on the field.

“I think there has been concern expressed that there are sometimes influences on athletic trainers and physicians to get them to return to play sooner than he or she is ready to,” Hainline said. “No one should be able to challenge that authority.”

The rule applies to the NCAA’s “Power Five” conferences, but other schools are encouraged to adopt similar guidelines, officials said.

The vote was 79-1 in favor, including all 15 student-athlete members from schools around the nation.

“My complaint was, why did it take them so long?” asked Ty Darlington, a senior offensive lineman on the Oklahoma football team, who criticized the Power Five group during the session.

“To me it seems like a no-brainer. Why would you want someone other than a trained athletic professional making a decision like that?”

Also on Friday, the Power Five autonomy group delayed action on a number of other proposals, including one to allow athletes to use their names, images and likenesses to promote their own non-athletic business ventures.

Action was delayed on a proposal limiting time demands on athletes, including a mandated two-week postseason break, a weekly day off and an eight-hour overnight break from sports requirements.

The panel adopted a resolution tabling action on the measures until next year’s convention.

“It’s frustrating for us that action wasn’t taken now,” Darlington said.

“We all agree there needs to be a retooling of not only how we count the hours, but also what the expectations on a student-athlete are,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “The life a Division I student is not for the faint-of-heart. But they know that when they sign up.”

In other action Friday, the group passed a proposal that lets high school baseball prospects hire an agent when negotiating with professional teams before they enroll in college.


Twitter: @johnfwhisler

The Associated Press contributed to this report.