-- The NCAA agreed Tuesday to settle a class-action
head-injury lawsuit by creating a $70 million fund to diagnose thousands
of current and former college athletes to determine if they suffered brain
trauma playing football, hockey, soccer and other contact sports.
governing body also agreed to implement a single return-to-play policy
spelling out how all teams must treat players who received head blows,
according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Critics have
accused the NCAA of giving too much discretion to individual schools about
when athletes can go back into games, putting them at risk.
Unlike a proposed
settlement in a similar lawsuit against the NFL, this deal stops short of
setting aside money to pay players who suffered brain trauma. Instead,
athletes can sue individually for damages and the NCAA-funded tests to
gauge the extent of neurological injuries could establish grounds for
applies to all men and women who participated in basketball, football, ice
hockey, soccer, wrestling, field hockey and lacrosse. Those who've played
at any time over the last half-century or more at one of the more than
1,000 NCAA member schools qualify for the medical exams.
serves as notice to the federal judge overseeing the case the parties
struck a deal after nearly a year of negotiations, which Joseph Siprut,
the lead plaintiffs' attorney who spearheaded talks with the NCAA, said
were sometimes tough.
"I wouldn't say
these changes solve the safety problems, but they do reduce the risks,"
the Chicago attorney said. "It's changed college sports forever."
The NCAA, which
admits no wrongdoing in the settlement and has denied understating the
dangers of concussions, hailed the settlement.
proactive measures will ensure student-athletes have access to high
quality medical care by physicians with experience in the diagnosis,
treatment and management of concussions," NCAA's chief medical officer
Brian Hainline said.
Siprut added that
stricter rules and oversight should help ensure the viability of football
by allaying fears of parents currently inclined to not let their kids
necessary to preserve the talent well of kids that feeds the game of
football," he said. "Absent these kinds of changes, the sport will die."
To keep the NCAA
from having to hold unwieldy talks with multiple plaintiffs, 10 lawsuits
filed nationwide were consolidated into the one case in Chicago, where the
first lawsuit was filed in 2011.
plaintiff is Adrian Arrington, a former safety at Eastern Illinois. He
said he endured five concussions while playing, some so severe he has said
he couldn't recognize his parents afterward. Subsequent headaches, memory
loss, seizures and depression made it difficult to work or even care for
his children, filings said.
plaintiff is former Central Arkansas wide receiver Derek K. Owens. After
several concussions, he said he found he could no longer retain what he
had just studied. His symptoms became so severe he dropped out of school
in 2011, telling his mother: "I feel like a 22-year-old with Alzheimer's."
settlement terms, all athletes will take baseline neurological tests to
start each year to help doctors determine the severity of any concussion
during the season; concussion education will be mandated for coaches and
athletes; and a new, independent Medical Science Committee will oversee
the medical testing.
Critics said the
agreement lets the NCAA off too easy.
One former UCLA
linebacker, Ramogi Huma, said the parties should have followed the lead of
the NFL settlement by laying aside money for damages.
"The deal falls
painfully short of what players need â?� comprehensive reform," said Huma,
who is president of the College Athletes Players Association. "I know
there is some limit for what the NCAA can do. But zero dollars is
cited a 2010 internal NCAA survey that found almost half of college
trainers put athletes with signs of a concussion back into the same game.
But the NCAA has
cited recent changes in equipment, medical practices and playing rules,
including ones prohibiting football players from targeting an opponent's
head or neck.
It also announced
in May a three-year, $30 million concussion study co-funded by the U.S.
Defense Department. Plans call for initial data collection on about 7,200
athletes from 12 colleges, increasing to 37,000 athletes at 30 sites, with
the aim of better understanding concussions and developing better
The settlement is
still subject to approval by U.S. District Judge John Lee, in a process
that could take months. He must grant preliminary approval and then, after
affected athletes weigh in, give a final OK.
filings say the number of athletes who may require testing to learn if
they suffered long-term damage runs into the tens of thousands. They cite
NCAA figures that from 2004 to 2009 alone, 29,225 NCAA athletes suffered
unsealed in the lawsuit illustrate how pressure mounted on the NCAA over
In a Feb. 23,
2010, email, the NCAA's director of government relations, Abe Frank,
wondered whether debates about new safeguards for young children playing
contact sports would crank up the pressure on the NCAA to do more.
responded bluntly a few hours later. "Well since we don't currently
require anything all steps are higher than ours," he wrote.
Later that year,
the NCAA did establish a new head-injury policy that requires each school
to have a concussion management plan on hand and it states that athletes
should be kept from play for at least a day after a concussion.
blamed a tendency of some teams to hurry concussed players back into
games, in part, on the NCAA's lax enforcement of the concussions policy.
In a 2012
deposition, asked if any schools had been disciplined for having subpar
concussion plans, Klossner said, "Not to my knowledge."