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UNT athletics implements Return to Learn concussion protocol for 2018-19 season

UNT athletics implements Return to Learn concussion protocol for 2018-19 season

UNT athletics implements Return to Learn concussion protocol for 2018-19 season
September 28
11:12 2018

The North Texas Athletic Department has updated its 2018-19 concussion management plan to put more emphasis on the Return to Learn protocol in an effort to reduce player injury.

The Denton ISD athletics department recently reported a drop in concussion rates from 64 in 2016 to 54 in 2018. While there is limited knowledge of the North Texas’ football concussion rates, the athletic department claims to have taken steps to ensure its players’ safety. One similarity found between the Denton ISD athletics department safety protocol and UNT’s 2018-2019 concussion management plan is the emphasis on communication, something senior athletic trainer Jeff Smith reiterated.

A concussion is defined by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to be a traumatic brain injury caused by a force to the head or body that leads to a change in brain function.

“I would say that over 75 percent of the concussions that we deal with, regardless of the sport, we rely on student athletes to bring it to our attention,” Smith said.

The report of a serious injury is not always communicated just between a player and an athletic trainer. Many other roles are involved depending on the severity of the injury.

“When athletes experience a concussion, they will be removed from participation and they will be seen by a physician and if necessary, a neurologist,” said assistant athletic trainer Javier Espinoza. “It’s kind of a collaboration between many hands.”

UNT athletics has reported 50 concussions between Aug. 2015 and Sept. 2018, with 38 concussions reported since Jan. 2017, according to documents obtained through a public information request.

Eric Capper, senior associate director of athletics, said in an email that the athletics department has made a concentrated effort to improve the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of concussions by student athletes in recent years.

“As a result of these efforts, the number of identified concussions have increased,” Capper said.

Capper said there was a complete overhaul of the sports medicine staff in 2017 and the department believes the new staff has improved efforts in identifying, monitoring and reporting concussion information than the previous staff did.

“It is entirely possible the numbers and records of reported concussions prior to 2017 are not as comprehensive as they are since our new staff has been in place,” Capper said.

A study through the National Center for Biotechnology Information, stated the number of reported sports-related concussions nationally has been on the rise. The study goes on to say, “ it is unknown whether these increases are attributable to increased reporting or frequency of concussions.”

UNT’s concussion management plan requires the football team to follow a Return to Play (RTP) progression in addition to the Return to Learn protocol.

The Return to Play protocol is a five-step process detailing a player’s post-concussion healing process. The protocol follows the concussion safety guidelines set by the NCAA. The NCAA’s safety guidelines include baseline testing, which requires periodic checkups for individuals and begins at just six hours post-injury and can last up to six months.

During this healing stage, injured football players must wear red jerseys to avoid physical contact from other teammates.

“An important thing that we always have to remember with our concussions by student-athletes — remember they’re students before they’re athletes,” Smith said.

Compared to UNT’s previous concussion management plans, the 2018-2019 plan places more emphasis on the Ready to Learn protocol, which states that student-athletes should not return to the classroom if concussion symptoms persist. The gradual steps taken before a player can begin in-game participation also applies to in-class participation.

In April 2017, the Division I council voted to eliminate two-a-days at football practices. DI sports teams are now required to include walk-throughs and prohibit any physical contact.

Although the walk-throughs lessen the amount of physical practice time, some football players have expressed appreciation for the new rule and find it beneficial.

“Eliminating two-a-days is the best thing that I have experienced,” Mean Green wide receiver Quinetin Jackson said. “You get time to recover and it was so much harder to get up and make it through practice the next day when we had two-a-days.”

North Texas head football coach Seth Littrell said it is important to take measures to ensure safety at practice as well as at games.

“At the end of the day we all know it’s a physical sport, things happen,” Littrell said. “As long as you have the players’ best interest at heart and you follow the professionals meaning the doctors and trainers, that’s what we do.”

Featured Image: Infographic Kelsey Shoemaker

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