College football has shifted away from the glorified Friday Night Lights days and has been at the forefront of scrutiny for their traditional methods and practices when it comes to player safety.
The University of Kansas, however, may have tapped into a solution. The University of Kansas strength and conditioning program now will be reporting directly to the university’s medical staff. This is an ongoing effort to improve the athletes’ safety and integrate two important parties in any sport – the coaches and the medical team.
In a press release from KU, they stated that this decision to have the strength and conditioning staff report to the medical staff “minimizes potential conflict of interest between coaches and medical staff.”
Now the question remains, will this minimize the role strength and conditioning coaches play within their university? Or is this a way to further integrate two major components in shaping young athletes?
KU Athletic Director, Jeff Long believes that keeping medical staff out of decisions is an old model.
“We’ve been behind in college athletics, to be candid.” He told CBS Sports. “When I got involved in athletics in the 1970s, the model was there. I think this it the next big step taking the medical piece out of it – out of the department’s hands.”
Last year, Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman at the University of Maryland died after he suffered an exertional heatstroke during an off-season practice. At the time, multiple sources told ESPN that the 19-year-old was exhibiting signs of exhaustion during practice. According to ESPN, Maryland’s head strength and conditioning coach was fired and and the head coach of the team was put on administrative leave after the ordeal.
What this event eventually brought to the forefront was how could something this horrific happen under a university’s watchful eye, and who’s to blame? One study published by Scott Anderson in 2017 in the Journal of Athletic Training helped address this assessing NCAA football players and off-season training protocols and best practices (1). What Anderson found was that since 2000, 33 NCAA football players have died in the sport with 27 non-traumatic deaths, and six traumatic deaths. And on average every season since 2000, two NCAA football players die.
McNair’s tragedy is one of many that have influenced KU to make this change. “When I walked into this department, I declared my No. 1 priority is the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes,” Long told CBS Sports.
Douglas Girod, a surgeon and member of the KU medical center faculty told CBS Sports, “The norm in college athletics has been for sports medicine practitioners to report to athletics department administrators. We knew we had a special opportunity to be innovative and get ahead of the curve. As a result, I believe we can tell all current and future student-athletes that they’re getting the best care and training in the country at the University of Kansas.”
Strength and conditioning isn’t going anywhere soon in collegiate athletic programs for good reason, but perhaps this change at KU will more clearly iron out roles and prevent horrific situations such as McNair’s.
This change now brings up a couple important questions for college athletes. One, how fast, and how many other colleges follow suit? Two, how will strength and conditioning protocols change and adapt to reporting to the medical team first?
Anderson, S. (2017). NCAA Football Off-Season Training: Unanswered Prayers… A Prayer Answered. Journal Of Athletic Training, 52(2), 145-148. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-52.3.02
Feature image from @kufootball Instagram page.