Most Concussions Come From Practice, Not Games, an NCAA Study Found

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College football players are more likely to suffer from a concussion during practice than they are during a live game, according to an observational study of NCAA Division I players. The study that looked at six NCAA football teams from 2015 to 2019 found that 72% of concussions and 67% of head impacts occurred during practices according to Michael McCrea, PhD of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and co-authors.

In addition, preseason training accounted for half of all concussions even though it is only 21% of an entire season. The findings of this study could have an impact on the NCAA and on full-contact drills in the future. 

McCrea suggested that reducing the amount of full-contact practices will do the greatest amount of good when it comes to reducing concussions in the NCAA. 

In an accompanying editorial, Christopher Nowinski, Ph.D., and Robert Cantu, MD, of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in Boston were highly critical of the NCAA. They cited that the NFL and even high school teams were more equipped to prevent concussions because collegiate athletes are virtually stuck in the middle. 

"High school reforms have been driven by oversight from state athletic associations, state governments, advocates, and educators responsible for the health and safety of minors," Nowinski and Cantu wrote. "In the NFL, reforms have been driven by the players, who can legally organize and collectively bargain. College football players exist in a regulatory no-man's land. They have no mechanism through which to organize, they are no longer minors, and they seem to exist outside the influence of professional educators."

McCrea and his co-authors called for the NCAA and football conferences to explore policy and rule changes to ultimately reduce the number of concussions in the NCAA. 

"Concussions in games are inevitable, but concussions in practice are preventable," Nowinski and Cantu wrote. "Practices are controlled situations where coaches have almost complete authority over the head impact exposure risks taken by players."