College Sports: The State of Injuries, Treatments & Safety Rules.
College sports know how to pivot. When football players returned to the field this fall, they did so with some extra defensive power they didn’t have the season prior — the ability to appeal a ‘targeting’ punishment. In the NCAA rulebook, ‘Targeting‘ is defined as:
"Taking aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball."
This season, players accused of targeting can appeal the call and, if successful, not be forced to sit out the first half of the following game as punishment. The original crackdown on targeting had as much, if not more, to do with injury prevention versus keeping the game legal. Players apparently got the message. Between 2021 and 2022, targeting infractions decreseased, John Daid, the Southeastern Conference Coordinator of Football Officials, told 24/7 Sports. Safety surrounding head injuries also improved. “Hopefully, it represents that athletes are recognizing the rule and how the game needs to be played legally and it’s showing up here as we have less targeting per game than we have the previous year,” Daid told 24/7.
IT MAY TAKE A “HAIL MARY” TO DRIVE COLLEGE SPORTS INJURY NUMBERS DOWN FURTHER
However, if the government’s data is true, it may take a hail Mary to reverse the college sports related injury trajectory. It’s widely know that college sports injuries have increased 400 to 500% over the past 15 years. Of the 500,000 athletes playing in an NCAA sport, more than 210,000 suffered an injury. Here’s a further breakdown of injuries among male and female athletes, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
At USA Sports Medicine in Miami Beach, physicians confirm a rise in college sports injuries over the past few years with football, baseball and soccer players comprising most of the clientele.
- Knee (MCL, Meniscus, ACL)
- Ankle (Achilles Tendinitis, Calf Strains, Muscle Pulls)
- Lower Back Issues
- Rotator Cuff & Labrum Issues
- Golfer’s Elbow, Tennis Elbow
- Knee (ACL, MCL, Meniscus, Patellar Tendon)
- Ankle (Sprains, Achilles Tendinitis)
Prehabilitation vs. Rehabilitation
As far as the targeting rules, Dr. Gayan Poovendran says anything to put a focus on safety on the field increases the longevity of any player. “Some of these injuries can be devastating and career ending. This speaks more to the targeter than the one being targeted, but making those unguarded hits can really hurt someone and keep them out of the game for a really long time,” says Poovendran.
Poovendran offered up some of the other approaches physicians take to ensure the safety of college sports and atheletes, including the idea of Prehabilitation vs. Rehabiliation.
Athletes who play multiple sports or are cross-trained suffer few injuries, says Poovendran, a 180 degree turn from previous thinking that only focusing on one sport was the better approach. This is especially true of high school athletes. But Poovendran’s advice for any athlete is a 360 degree approach.
While the growth in injuries inclines, so does the number of athletes seeking PRP treatment versus surgery. Just to name drop, both Steph Curry and Alex Rodriguez used it. Too much time on the sidelines could end up costing a player. And remember, college athletes can now make money from their image and likeness.