Steinberg: NCAA might be to blame

The lawsuit by former NFL players against the league claiming lack of warnings to players about the dangers, and alleging studies showing damage were covered up, has generated massive public focus.

There is a lawsuit in its early stages brought by former college football players alleging the NCAA failed in its duty to protect athletes that has an even more viable chance of success.

When athletes, who are in the 17-21 age range suffer a concussion, the ramifications can far exceed those of older athletes.

The brain may be still in the process of formation. Recovery time is as much as three times longer than for older athletes. And athletes at this age are still students, required to maintain a full academic schedule and maintain a minimum grade-point average.

Stronger preventive methods and higher barriers for return to play are needed to guard against the greater threat.

The four named plaintiffs, led by former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington allege that the opposite is true.

The NFL, under the leadership of Commissioner Roger Goodell, has tried to respond to the findings indicating that multiple concussions lead to an exponentially higher risk of dementia, premature senility, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, as well as elevated rates of depression.

The NFL has a "whistleblower edict," asking players to report their peers they suspect of being concussion impaired on the field. They have mandated baseline testing, the ImPACT protocol developed by Dr. Mark Lovell, which is a cognitive test, administered pre-season that can be compared with a post-concussion test to dictate when a player is ready to return.

The NCAA has done very little.

Rachel Axon's article in USA Today last month cites plaintiff allegations that the NCAA displayed a "casual attitude toward concussions." The players allege, based on emails that "when David Klossner, the NCAA's director of health and safety, pushed in early 2010 for stronger guidelines regarding concussions, Ty Halpin, the director of playing rules administration, wrote a colleague 'Dave is hot/heavy on the concussion stuff. He's been trying to force our rules committees to put in rules that are not good — I think I have finally convinced him to calm down.'"

Axon reports that in response to an inquiry about concussion standards, Klossner wrote "Well, since we don't currently require anything, all steps are higher than ours."

The NCAA certainly has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of college athletes. When its own director of health and safety, trying to remedy the situation, admits that "we don't require anything" by way of warning or return-to-play requirements, they failed that duty.

Hopefully this lawsuit will lead the way to a new demanding protocol that protects these athletes.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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