PRESS RELEASE – DECEMBER 4, 2019
For immediate release
For more information:
Dr. B. David Ridpath, Ed.D.
The Drake Group
College Athlete Medical Decisions Must be Free of Athletic Department Interference and Control
NEW HAVEN, CT. –
Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne penned an outstanding expose entitled Documents, Claims Bring NCAA Medical Care Issues into Question. Lavigne revealed one of the ‘dirty little secrets’ of commercialized intercollegiate athletics — that critical decisions regarding college athlete health and welfare which should be solely made by licensed medical professionals and athletic trainers are being influenced by highly paid and powerful coaches and administrators based on competitive efficacy. As Lavigne notes, a coach or administrator should never influence medical decisions concerning a college athlete because it is a clear conflict of interest.
In 2016, after pressure from the medical community, the NCAA approved new rules mandating medical independence for athletic training and sports medicine staffs in the Power 5 conferences and, recently, the rest of the Division I and Division II and III voted to approve this legislation as well. These rules are unambiguous. University sports medicine staff members have “unchallengeable authority” over the medical treatment and return-to-play decisions for athletes and independent decision-making authority over the hiring and firing of medical personnel. Further, an NCAA briefing document states, “The coach
must be completely de-coupled from medical decision-making and primary athletics health care providers must be in an environment in which making such decisions are free of any threat from coaches.”
Lavigne goes on to point the finger at an NCAA member institution and coach openly defying this NCAA rule. Current Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher brought in his own medical staff when he was hired. At the time, NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline opined, “It’s not right that coaches come in, and they bring in their medical team, and … they have that sort of control over that medical team.” Hainline stated that it is a violation of NCAA rules to do this. Texas A&M disagreed. The NCAA has taken no enforcement action to date.
The Drake Group calls upon the NCAA to actually govern and protect the health and well-being of college athletes consistent with its rules. We do not need a repeat of the tragic story of the death of Jordan McNair at Maryland in which a football coach and strength and conditioning staff pressured athletic trainers to participate in and ignore the coaches’ unrealistic conditioning demands and an athlete suffering from heat stroke. We cannot wait for even one more catastrophic example to materialize.
The Drake Group also calls upon the NCAA to install more stringent basic athlete medical protections that will offset the power of coaches and athletic departments and the reality that athletes will not complain or report abuse because they fear loss of athletic scholarships, starting positions or any coach action that might undermine aspirations for a professional sports career. In addition, The Drake Group strongly recommends that:
- All legislation related to health and protection of athletes from athletic injury or coach abuse should not be adopted by vote of the membership or applicable to any subdivision of athletes. Rather, such protection must be applicable to all athletes in all divisions and be a Board of Governors action recommended by the Chief Medical Officer.
- College athletes need a whistleblower hotline and protection of anonymity to enable the report of violations of NCAA rules and practices that endanger the health and well being of athletes
- As with academic services, all sports medicine functions must be under the supervision and control of a non-athletics entity. This includes budget, personnel decisions and most notably all medical decisions for the athlete.
- Athletics staff members should be required to be “mandatory reporters” to the NCAA of any practice that endangers the health and well being of athletes.
These and other issues are discussed in a recent Drake Group position paper, College Athlete Health and Protection from Physical and Psychological Harm. The time for lip service is over. We call on all NCAA institutions to follow the medical safety rules currently in place and the NCAA to exercise its enforcement responsibilities. We need more than the current obvious common sense statement that all medical decision making must be independent of the athletic department and powerful coaches and administrators who do not have the best interests of the athlete at heart. Lavigne, Paula. (2019, 26 November). Documents, claims bring NCAA medical care issues into question. ESPN.com. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/28116817/documents-claims-bring-ncaa-medical-care-issues-question