Concussions in Club and Intramural Sports
Although higher ed club and intramural sports pose a risk of concussions or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), many participants don’t receive the same education or training as varsity athletes. These sports programs usually lack the oversight and resources of an intercollegiate program.
Your college or university should work to educate and protect participants. Poor concussion management can lead to improper identification and treatment of this serious injury; student-athletes may not recognize their concussion symptoms and fail to seek medical care.
Do this to support club and intramural sports programs:
Develop a Plan
Seek professional legal and medical guidance to develop a concussion management plan (CMP). The NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook chapter on concussions is useful, though it doesn’t apply to club sports. When drafting a CMP, consider the availability of resources and personnel in departments overseeing club sports. Note, however, that your institution risks liability when it doesn’t enforce its own standards.
Consider the Need for Preseason Baseline Testing
While research doesn’t support the necessity of preseason baseline testing, it is widely used in varsity programs and the NCAA recommends it. Many institutions offer baseline tests for all club athletes or at least those participating in contact sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, and wrestling.
Athletes who opt out are asked to sign a waiver or assumption of risk form. Discuss with counsel whether baseline testing of club athletes is advantageous. If your institution chooses not to offer testing, document your reasoning.
Educate and Train Officers, Coaches, Athletes, Referees
Students usually manage and organize club sports and intramurals. They are often the first to spot injuries since athletic trainers and physicians typically aren’t on the sidelines.
Educate coaches and athletes on concussions, including:
- Signs and symptoms
- The seriousness of this injury
- The requirement to self-report injuries
- The violation of the student code of conduct for those who fail to self-report
Require Athletes to Sign Releases Before Participation
Retain release forms as evidence that your institution educated and supported its club and intramural teams in concussion management. Releases should:
- Identify risks, including concussions, associated with club sports.
- Acknowledge athletes assume the risks of participation.
- Acknowledge athletes received concussion education or training.
- Require athletes to immediately report signs or symptoms they experience or see in others.
- Acknowledge that medical professionals often aren’t present and athletes are responsible for contacting health professionals or emergency services for an injury or medical issue.
- Release your institution from responsibility for injuries or losses arising from the athlete’s participation.
Don’t Let Athletes Suspected of Suffering a Concussion Play
The standard is to return athletes to play only after a medical professional with experience in treating concussions conducts an evaluation. Ensure student-athletes know where to get an evaluation and clearance form; locations to provide this form include:
- Student health center
- Sport science department
- Athletic trainers
- Local emergency room
Document provision of this information to all student-athletes.
Clear Athletes After They Suffer Concussions
A medical professional must clear athletes, in writing, after the athletes suffer a concussion. Many institutions require completion of a medical clearance form.
Document Your Handling of Concussions
Retain documentation about:
- The incident
- Clearance of the athlete
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About the Author
Joe Vossen, JD
CPCU, Resolutions Counsel
Joe is a member of UE’s Resolutions department, where he handles bodily injury and education liability claims. He is a former member of UE’s Risk Research team and, prior to that, practiced insurance defense law. His areas of expertise include LGBTQ protections, use of force by campus police, athletic injuries, and study abroad.