Hoping to beef up policies for handling concussions, an NCAA panel is recommending a new rule that would sideline an athlete for at least the rest of the day if he or she loses consciousness or shows other worrisome symptoms during competition.
The rule, which would affect all NCAA sports, comes from the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, which wrapped up a three-day meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
The panel also recommended sidelining an athlete with less severe concussion-related symptoms until cleared by a doctor.
"Concussions are unique in the fact that many times an athlete can compete at a fairly high level and withhold symptoms, as opposed to a knee or ankle injury where it's very easy to see," said panelist Ron Courson, director of sports medicine at the University of Georgia. "We want to educate the coaches and the officials."
The recommendations, which would apply to both games and practices, could be considered by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel as soon as next month.
They come as sports officials everywhere are paying increased attention to concussions. Earlier this month, the NFL sent a memo to its teams outlining stricter guidelines for when players should be allowed to return to games or practices after head injuries.
According to the NCAA, from 2004-08 concussions during games accounted for approximately 10 percent of women's soccer injuries, 8 percent of field hockey injuries, 6 percent of football injuries, 6 percent of men's soccer injuries and 4 percent of women's volleyball injuries.
In the panel's view, a loss of consciousness, amnesia or persistent confusion are grounds to keep a player out of competition for the remainder of the day with no exceptions.
"Symptoms can vary widely, but there are some symptoms there that absolutely preclude you from going back to activity, at least on that game day or that practice day," Courson said. "If they have any of those three, then they are removed from competition and they cannot return for that day, and they have to follow up with a physician."
More minor symptoms, such as a headache, dizziness or balance problems, would also be handled carefully. A player would need permission from a physician or a physician's designee to return to the game.
Referees would have to enforce these rules.
Rogers Redding, the NCAA's football secretary-rules editor and coordinator of football officials for the Southeastern Conference, said the new proposals would be similar to rules preventing players from playing while bleeding.
He said it's not hard to see if a player is dizzy or having trouble walking, although some other symptoms are more difficult to notice.
"It's going to require probably that we have a little more close contact with athletic trainers," Redding said. "I don't know how anybody visually detects a headache."
Dave Klossner, the NCAA's health and safety director, said referees have been educated on how to look for symptoms and there are "considerable" concussion guidelines in the NCAA's sports medicine handbook.
Todd Bell, director of media relations at the American Football Coaches Association, said the practices outlined in the new proposals are already commonplace.
"Generally, in a situation like that, the coach is going to defer to the trainer or physician when there's a concussion situation to begin with. I don't know that that rule is going to change a whole lot," Bell said. "I think it probably kind of formalizes what goes on for the most part now."
The panel also recommended the NCAA host a meeting next year on concussions and approved editing the NCAA's sports medicine handbook to emphasize that athletes should be monitored for symptoms during both rest and exertion.
Courson explained his procedure for handling potential concussions at Georgia.
"If it's loss of consciousness, they're definitely out, no questions asked. ... But if I have somebody where their headache subsides in a very brief amount of time ... we may want to try to exert them," Courson said. "We want to try to move them around and get their heart rate up, change their head position rapidly. We may try to run them on the sideline, do some sport-specific things, and then we're going to try to simulate some contact."