Football is a rough, violent, collision sport that deals out serious injuries on a near-weekly (even game-by-game) basis. Even just on the Bears, ask Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett, Matt Forte, Patrick Mannelly, and especially Johnny Knox about injuries. But in the NFL, if a player gets injured, he's got the team's support in everything - qualified doctors and second opinions of all kinds to ensure a proper diagnosis.
In the NCAA? Not so much. You get a team doctor, and you're on your own after that.
I'll be honest, this isn't exactly something I think about when it comes to football. Injuries are a problem, sure. And of course the professional teams and the league have the best medical care, et cetera, necessary. Not to get all Helen Lovejoy and "Won't someone think of the children?!" on you though (much appreciated for the fix, by the way), but they don't really get that much... just a team doctor.
The problem is that there really are no checks and balances, or a union in place to protect college athletes. They simply have to do as they are told with no questions asked. If they dare question the system or the regimen they are then labeled as renegade or even selfish.
Right now a second opinion system does not exist in college football and players are at the mercy of the team doctor or trainer. My clients have told me countless times that when they are injured it takes an act of God to get an MRI. MRI's can be expensive and time consuming but can help tell the real story of an injury. And for those reasons college trainers are never quick to make it a precautionary routine to gauge an injury.
Sounds rough, doesn't it? But with the system in place in the NCAA, there isn't really a ton of incentive for programs do this. If you're a college program (or should I say, running one), it's pretty much wins/losses and "keeping your nose clean." For the players themselves, well, they'll be in the NFL soon anyway, so they aren't the NCAA's problem, right?
Honestly, college programs should care about their players, at least enough to give them what professional leagues offer. And it's not like the money's lacking...
As college football gets even richer they should use some of those funds to set up a second opinion system and even buy some MRI machines for their training rooms. Simultaneously, college players and their parents should not be afraid to ask for premium health care along with a second medical opinion when any injury occurs.
Obviously, for some programs, it probably is a challenge to pay for even decent equipment, much less extra doctors and MRIs. But there's no reason the NCAA can't kick in.
Let's consider the main point of Jack Bechta's article - that NCAA programs are breaking down the players before they even enter the NFL. Essentially, the premise is that the NCAA is providing "damaged goods" (my words) to the NFL in terms of injuries and introductions to new, possibly unfamiliar training regimens.
When an 18 to 19-year-old freshman, whose body is still growing and developing, starts a heavy lifting routine, sometimes they just aren't ready to handle the trauma. Heavy lifting such as squats, power cleans and bench pressing thrown at them year round can cause long term damage if done in excess. These traditional football power lifts take a toll on the knees, hips, shoulders and back. A performance trainer with a well known pre-combine facility told me that 60% of the draftees they get are nursing a chronic issue usually associated with one of these three areas of the body. He said, "they are pretty beat up not just from their senior season but from four or five years of being beaten down in the weight room and on the practice field.
According to one of Bechta's contacts, an NFC GM, certain injury patterns can be traced back to certain schools, such as one program having abnormally high amounts of knee and hamstring injuries.
And here's the real kicker. Healthier athletes usually make for better players, and in turn, provide better teams and better games. And better games - providing wins to NCAA athletic programs - lead to more people tuning in, leading to more money for the NCAA. And isn't that what makes everything click? It's definitely not in the NFL's best interest to receive "damaged goods," so they could probably even kick in a portion to offset the NCAA's costs.
So here's my discussion point to you guys. Should NCAA athletes have the same level of medical care as NFL athletes, or should it be entirely left up to the school? If so, who should pay for it?