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Second Draft of New NCAA Constitution: What Does it Mean for Health and Safety?

Chad Asplund, MD, MPH
Executive Director, US Council for Athletes’ Health

December 7, 2021

The NCAA released the second draft of its new constitution today with some minor changes from the initial draft released Nov. 8. The NCAA maintains protecting student-athlete well-being as a key tenet and identifies it as a shared responsibility across higher education at the campus, conference, division and national levels.

Included in the draft is language requiring all members of the NCAA establish an administrative structure that:

  • provides independent medical care for student-athletes;
  • affirms the autonomous authority of primary athletics healthcare providers;
  • implements NCAA guidance, rules, and policies, based on the consensus of the medical, scientific, sports medicine and sport’s governing bodies.

The constitution also states an institution’s membership in the NCAA may be suspended, terminated, or otherwise disciplined for failure to abide by the principles stated in the constitution or those established by the respective division. Any language explicitly dictating enforceable health and safety standards, however, has been glaringly omitted.

Without clearly stating that the health and safety standards (required by the NCAA) are enforceable, institutions and conferences face no specified penalty associated for non-compliance. In areas such as Title IX and recruiting, there are enforceable standards with associated penalties to the institution in the event of violations. A lack of enforceable standards set by an outside agency decreases the likelihood of wide-spread compliance and will continue to compromise athletes’ health, safety and welfare and ultimately leave institutions facing risk and liability.  

For the first time, the NCAA will require that NCAA guidance, rules and policies be made available to student-athletes. Institutions will have to provide students with access and education regarding health and safety protocols such as the Interassociation Recommendations: Prevention of Catastrophic Injury and Sudden Death in Collegiate Athletes and the Concussion Safety Protocol. This should allow athletes to better understand what member institutions are supposed to do around health and safety. 

This draft further extends the role of the faculty athletics representative (FAR) as the principle point of contact for student athletes to report ANY action, activity, or behavior by anyone associated with the athletics program that inconsistent with health and well-being guidelines. The FAR should then report these incidents directly to the institution’s president or chancellor. This is significant in that it gives the student-athlete the ability to report potential unsafe behaviors outside the direct athletics administrative chain to the university president.

At face value, the designation of the FAR as the intermediator between the athlete and the institution is an improvement; however, most FARs have limited to no health and safety training, and it is unclear if they will be required to receive adequate education to identify or appropriately disposition athletes who may have mental or physical health issues. At a minimum, it should be mandated that FARs receive the health and safety education as required by the Interassociation Recommendations.

To take it a step further, ideally, the athletes would also have access to medical experts outside the institution or athletic chain to seek advice or report potential violations, therefore eliminating conflicts and the fear of retribution with reporting. 

As an independent, third-party provider of athlete health and safety resources, the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health is powered by the innate desire to reimagine the athletic healthcare experience and is poised to support our institutional and conference partners through this period of tremendous change. Our programming can support increased demands for education designated for student-athletes, athletic department and institution staff and the faculty athletics representative, while our consultative services can guide partners in ensuring they appropriately and effectively prioritize athlete health and safety.

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