New Legislation Gives Medical Staff Autonomous Authority

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The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame praised the Power Five conferences for new legislation passed Jan. 15 during the NCAA Convention in San Antonio that establishes the “unchallengeable autonomous authority” of team physicians and athletic trainers to make return-to-play decisions for student-athletes after concussions and other injuries.

“We applaud the Power Five conferences for their leadership on formalizing the rules for protecting the safety of our nation’s student-athletes,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “The issue of concussions remains a top concern for everybody involved with athletics at all levels, and this new legislation is another important step in the process that has made college athletics safer than ever. Many people overlook the role of our nation’s athletic trainers who are out there every day for the good of the kids. This is an enormously important step in empowering the athletic trainers and team physicians as the first line in protecting our student-athletes.”

The Power Five conferences, which include the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, adopted the new rule to formalize their current return-to-play protocols, which ensure critical health and safety decisions rest with medical professionals who cannot face pressure or the threat of firing from coaches or other forces.


Specifically, the new rules prohibit coaches from serving as the primary supervisor for any medical provider or from have hiring, retention, and dismissal authority over the decision maker.

“I believe it’s the most important piece of legislation in the history of the NCAA,” says Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, told ESPN. “No one can challenge their authority.”

NFF 2015 William V. Campbell Trophy recipient Ty Darlington (Oklahoma) and NFF Board Member and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby led an effort last year to pass the stronger legislation after a weaker version was adopted during the 2015 convention. Darlington and Bowlsby expressed concerns that last year’s legislation still allowed coaches too much influence in the process.

Bowlsby and the Big 12 subsequently adopted a conference policy that created the new model, which has now been adopted by the Power Five, giving the medical professionals unchallengeable authority over the decisions.

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