NCAA Agrees To Major Medical Reforms In Settlement Of Concussion Lawsuit


The NCAA and former players suing the organization over its treatment and management of concussions across sports have reached a settlement in the class action case, coming to an agreement that will establish a fund for monitoring of the injuries and new policies for how to treat and respond to them.

The settlement was filed Tuesday morning in the Northern District of Illinois, the New York Times reported. It has not yet received approval from the judge overseeing the case.

The original case was brought by three former college athletes led by former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington. The suit alleged that the NCAA did not educate players on the dangers of concussions or properly treat or manage the injuries when they occurred.

The settlement will establish “a $70 million medical monitoring fund and a new national protocol for head injuries sustained by players during games and practices” and includes other agreements that will benefit athletes, the Times reported:

It would give all former college athletes a chance to receive a neurological screening to examine brain functions and any signs of brain damage like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

The N.C.A.A. would also prevent athletes who have sustained a concussion from returning to a game or practice that day. Trained medical personnel would be required at all contact sports events like football, lacrosse, basketball, soccer and wrestling.

Court documents made public in the case showed that NCAA athletes across all sports suffered nearly 30,000 concussions between 2004 and 2009, but that the organization did little to address the problem, conducting research but refusing to institute standards for how its member schools should deal with treatment or return to play. The NCAA instead chose to require schools to come up with their own Concussion Management Plans, though there was little oversight from the NCAA itself into whether schools followed the plans and no planned enforcement if they did not institute or follow the protocols. The documents included emails that showed NCAA officials specifically saying that it did not set national standards in order to avoid legal liability, and detailed how lax its standards were. In one email, for instance, NCAA medical director David Klossner responded to a question about the strength of the NCAA’s policies relative to other leagues by saying, “Well since we don’t currently require anything all steps are higher than ours.”

The documents also showed that only two-thirds of NCAA members performed baseline concussion testing and that 39 percent had no return-to-play guidelines. The Times reported that the settlement would require preseason baseline testing for all athletes, a policy that two members of Congress have pushed for in legislation introduced last year. The settlement will also establish a $5 million concussion research fund, mandate educational training for athletes before each season, and require medical personnel on the sidelines for games in contact sports, according to USA Today.

According to the Times, the settlement will not preclude athletes who were party to the suit from pursuing their own separate lawsuits against the NCAA, and Arrington, the former football player who headlined the case, plans to continue suing the organization. The NCAA is still facing multiple other lawsuits related to concussions, including a wrongful death suit from the family of former Frostburg State University football player Derek Sheely, who died after remaining on the field after sustaining concussions during practice.

Concussion treatment has been a major issue for players challenging the NCAA on other fronts as well: the National Collegiate Players Association has long advocated for major reforms to the NCAA’s concussion policies, and the College Athletes Players Association, a spinoff of the NCPA that is attempting to become the first players union for college athletes, has cited the substandard concussion policies as one of the major reasons why athletes want to form a union.