The Big Ten Conference and the Ivy League announced today a joint partnership around sports-related concussion research, which will aim to answer long-term questions about athletic head injuries.
Combined, more than 17,500 student-athletes participate in sports at Big Ten and Ivy League universities, in a huge variety of sports. That sample of athletes, along with the possibility of pooling member institutions’ resources in both conferences, led to the creation of the partnership, introduced in discussions last September.
“By pooling our expertise and resources, our institutions aim to significantly expand upon the research needed to improve long-term, concussion-prevention measures,” said Shirley Tilghman, the president of Princeton University, in a statement.
The first mission of the partnership, according to ESPN.com, will be to determine which neurological tests to use for all student-athletes before the start of their seasons. A number of Ivy League and Big Ten member schools already utilize the ImPACT baseline-concussion tests, but the process needs to be standardized throughout all participating schools.
After deciding which tests to employ, the conferences will reach out to organizations for federal funding, ESPN reports.
“The opportunity for collaborating on such a landmark series of studies with the Ivy League is unprecedented in sports medicine,” said Dr. Dennis Molfese, director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska, in a statement. “Frankly, this is a unique moment in the history of science.
The real appeal of this partnership, as Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com, is its scope.
“What’s missing, even though there’s been some good research, is a longitudinal study governed by common protocol,” Delany said. “Measuring before college, in college, and post-college.”
There’s been plenty of emerging research in recent years dealing with sports-related concussions, but Delany’s correct in asserting that a longitudinal study of such magnitude has never been completed with youth-athletes. This partnership now provides the opportunity for the commissioning of such a study, although it likely won’t be a short-term process by any means.
Experts urge caution when extrapolating results of sports-related concussion research to athletes of different age groups, as younger brains are in drastically different states of development compared to brains of collegiate and professional athletes. With that said, there’s not much research focusing on the brains of younger athletes at this point, which makes this type of research that much more critical.
All the athletes who participate in this future research must do so on a voluntary basis, according to the two conferences. No student-athlete will be forced into participating in concussion research.
Before announcing this partnership, both conferences had already taken strides toward making collegiate sports safer for student-athletes. Last year, the Ivy League reduced the number of full-contact practices allowed for their football teams each week, and the Big Ten was the first conference in 2010 to adopt a conferencewide concussion-management plan.
This partnership will now help take that work to the next level, officials in both conferences suggest.
The news of this collaboration comes on the heels of last week’s news that Pop Warner would be changing rules to limit the type and amount of contact allowed in youth-football practices.
And if the last 18 months are any indication, this collaboration won’t be the last sports-related concussion news we’ll be tackling this year.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.