Ken Belson, New York Times - Football head injuries from practice, not games.

Ken Belson, New York Times
Football head injuries from practice, not games.


Competition is good. Competition often improves productivity and speeds innovation. But competition in its basic elements — A or B, you or me; the competition just to win in sports and politics, can get ugly. Especially when the prizes in the competition are power and control.

The competition between the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and one of its all-too-autonomous Division I Football Oversight Committee has been fierce. It’s no wonder when you consider the stakes — power and control over one of the most lucrative markets in professional sports. We are talking about big-time college football, a fully professional sport where only the players are treated like amateurs.

A “game-changing” neurological study of college football players, that covered everything but the games, has positioned the NCAA and the Football Oversight Committee for a competition to do good. And the reward will be better brain health for the athletes.

Here’s what the neurologists found, based on five football seasons at six major schools — Air Force, Army, North Carolina, U.C.L.A., Virginia Tech and Wisconsin: almost three-quarters of concussions suffered by college football players occurred in practices, almost half the concussions came in the first month of pre-season practice.  

The professional National Football League — the NFL — placed limits on the number of full-contact practices teams can schedule during the playing season in 2011. In 2016, the Ivy League banned full-contact drills from in-season football practices. No other conference, no other schools have joined them. 

When it comes to the pre-season, hard hits have an open field, which may explain that concussions in the college football pre-season outnumbered concussions during in-season practices by two to one.


Ken Belson covers the National Football League for the New York Times. He joined the Times Sports section in 2009 after stints in Metro and Business. From 2001 to 2004, he wrote about Japan in the Tokyo bureau.




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