Ivies and Big Ten to tackle concussions together

  • SMART PLAY | The partnership between the Big Ten and Ancient Eight may help athletes avoid concussions in the future.

A summer break didn’t stop the Ivy League from tackling one of the hottest topics in sports today: concussions.

In June, the Ancient Eight announced a collaboration with the Big Ten conference to facilitate the exchange of ideas and data between the 20 institutions in the two leagues.

At the moment, the two conferences are focused on laying the groundwork for their collaboration, and it is still too early to determine what the extent of the cooperative efforts will be.

The pairing was conceived in the aftermath of a concussion summit hosted by the Big Ten in 2011, but the Ivy League had already taken steps to prevent concussions on its own.

The Ivy League formed a committee in 2010 addressing the issue, and in 2011 it instituted measures intended to curb both the incidence and negative impact of concussions in football. On July 16, the league also released recommendations on how to address concussions in both men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse. Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris has indicated that similar actions are being taken with ice hockey, which exists at all the Ancient Eight schools except for Columbia and Penn.

But by teaming up with the Big Ten, the Ivy League has taken an unprecedented step in concussion research.

“Last summer, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the Big Ten hosting a concussion summit, which I found very interesting, and began discussions with the Big Ten to find out ‘hey, what are you doing,’” Harris said. “As part of those discussions we quickly realized that there were some great synergies.”

The Big Ten found the collaboration similarly appealing, especially because of the gap in inter-institutional cooperation that the summit revealed.

“At all 12 of our institutions, which are world-renowned research institutions, there are projects ongoing that other schools didn’t know were going on,” Kerry Kenny, Big Ten associate director of compliance, said, emphasizing the need to build bridges between campuses.

Both conferences were interested in the proposal. “Everyone was immediately receptive to the idea,” Harris said. “Big Ten institutions and the conference office was receptive to it. And so it just makes sense to share data, share research, share ideas, and share findings.”

With more than 17,000 athletes between the two conferences, the collaboration also has the potential to provide an enormous pool of data, which could be an invaluable resource in future studies.

In this early phase of the collaboration, the all-important question of funding has still not been answered. But Harris believes that inter-conference cooperation could give researchers a competitive advantage in their efforts to win grants despite the low acceptance rates by organizations that give grants for scientific research. A number of possible sources of funding exist, including professional leagues or players’ unions, the military, and government agencies such as the National Institute of Health.

“We believe our research becomes more interesting by having maybe an Ivy League school partner with the Big Ten,” Harris said. “So there might be additional funding sources that might be interested because of this collaboration.”

But before financial concerns can be dealt with, concrete goals must be laid out and grant proposals must be put together.

“We’ve put together some foundations and some objectives,” Kenny said. “In terms of a timetable, it’s still too early in the process to say that we’ll have a proposal ready by this date,” he added.

He also emphasized the importance of allowing things to develop without an unnecessary rush. “I think it’s really about weighing all the options and having the best proposals put together,” Kenny said. “It’s not something we’re going to go blindly into.”

No matter the outcome, both conferences would like to see this type of collaboration occur with other conferences around the nation.

“We would love to see other conferences follow our lead and to see the NCAA assume a leadership role regarding concussions,” Harris said.


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