courtesy Keylon Stokes experienced uncontrollable spasms after colliding with another player on Sept. 24.

University football concussion protocols are too lax

The NCAA’s guidelines for university football are not strict enough to maintain players’ health.

Bright lights, quick throws, thundering crowds and fast contact all come to a screeching halt when a football player does not get up after the referees blow their whistles. This could be a mundane injury, a sprained ankle, a cramp or simply getting the wind knocked out of them. In some cases, we watch players attempt to stand, only to stumble or fall back down with their limbs moving uncontrollably. Crowds hold their breath as they wait for these young men to stand back up. Some, like the University of Tulsa’s own Keylon Stokes, can move with assistance or entirely on their own. Others, like the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, are taken off the field in an ambulance with family in tow.

Both players’ returns to the field are controversial, as Stokes was allowed back in the game just two plays after ESPN captured the startling footage of the helmet-to-helmet collision by Ole Miss defensive player Otis Reese during the Sept. 24 game. The contact appeared to cause Stokes to have uncontrollable spasms after attempting to stand. Reese was ejected from the game for targeting, and Stokes was taken to the sideline to be evaluated for a concussion. Just two offensive plays later and Stokes was once again on the field.

Similarly, Tagovailoa was removed from the NFL Week 3 matchup against the Buffalo Bills to be examined for a concussion, which was deemed a back injury. He was also cleared to return to the field by the medical professionals on the sidelines. Just four days later, he was slammed to the ground by a member of the Cincinnati Bengal’s defense. Upon impact, Tagovailoa went rigid and was removed from the field via ambulance to a local hospital. The public was later informed that he was stable, conscious and had movement in his extremities. It was confirmed by Miami coaching staff that he did have a concussion. Shortly thereafter, an internal investigation was launched into the Miami concussion protocols quickly followed by an official investigation by the NFL. This comes after significant changes were made by the league to the concussion protocol in 2018.

While TU is certainly not on the national stage in the way the Miami Dolphins are, there was significant media coverage of Stokes’s collapse. This has not seemed to spark an investigation the way that Tagovailoa’s dramatic exit from Week 4’s game did. The NFL publishes its concussion protocol that teams and physicians must follow, but the NCAA simply lists guidelines that schools must adhere to when creating their own protocols. However, they state on their website that “Division I submission of institutional concussion management protocols for review by the Concussion Safety Protocol Committee is not required at this time.” Additionally, their website states that schools have not had to submit their concussion protocols since 2020 when Division I schools were given a waiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This waiver has been extended twice to now include both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons. This begs the question: if the NCAA is not checking schools’ policies, how much protection are they actually providing students? The heavy responsibility of keeping these students safe falls to the various athletic departments of each university. Our own concussion policy does its best to provide a guide but does not have a set amount of time that a player must stay out of a game or practice after receiving a head injury.

While some of our student athletes receive athletic scholarships, not all do. Some students are not compensated for any marketing or promotional work they do either for sporting events or TU in general. But TU relies on the money that comes from patrons and audiences watching all our athletic events, particularly football. We cheer for these students as they risk significant injury, when it is not worth the risk to many of them. I myself am an avid football fan but having held my breath while I watched players on the field injured, I’ve had to take a step back and consider what long term effects the game is having on these students.

Post Author: Catherine Case