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72% of College Football Concussions in Practice


The beat goes on: 72% of college football concussions occur in practice, only 28% in games, according to research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology.


During both practices and games in the 2015-2019 seasons, researchers placed accelerometers (sensors) in the helmets of 658 players at Air Force, Army, North Carolina, UCLA, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. Their findings over five football seasons: 528,000 head impacts and 68 recognized concussions. Practice accounted for 72% of the concussions and 67% of the head impacts.


By contrast, the NFL percentage of practice-field concussions has consistently been in the single digits since practice contact was reduced dramatically in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.


What about the high school level? Until 2018, every authoritative study showed more concussions in high school football practice than in games. But in recent years that ratio has reversed, persuading many experts that limits on practice contact have been effective.


In an Op-Ed this week, Dr. Robert C. Cantu and Dr. Chris Nowinski, co-foundersof the Concussion Legacy Foundation, called the new college football research "shocking." They wrote, "We find this situation inexcusable. Concussions in games are inevitable, but concussions in practice are preventable. Practices are controlled situations where coaches have almost complete authority over the HIE (head impact exposure) risks taken by players."


Drs. Cantu and Nowinski cited improvements in Michigan high school football, mandated in 2019. Practice reform in that state was triggered in part by Practice Like Pros presentations to the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) and the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).


"Now is the time for all lovers of high school football to come together," said PLP founder Terry O'Neil. "This fearsome data at the college level shows us the stakes. The key is teaching high school coaches with video how to limit practice contact. Once they see NFL practice technique, they embrace it."


In a prior career, O'Neil was Senior Vice President of Football Administration for the New Orleans Saints. In that role, he once was told by a player agent that his client, a college running back, would soon declare for the NFL Draft.


When O'Neil expressed mild surprise, the agent said, "I know, I'm probably bringing him out a year early, but I have to get him out of college football. It's not the games, it's the practices. If I don't put him into the Draft now, he won't survive another year of practice."


(To read the JAMA Neurology research, click here.)


(To read the Op-Ed by Drs. Cantu and Nowinski,click here.)

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