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A Flawed System for Providing Student-Athletes With Medical Care


Marjorie Albolm is the head of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA).  She was recently in Washington, D.C. for her group’s annual Capitol Hill Day.  She and other members of NATA spent the day lobbying about 100 members of Congress on issues relating to the safety of athletes.

Ms. Albolm made time to conduct an interview with a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education that covered topics such as how college athletic programs handle concussions and other serious injuries suffered by student-athletes.

The highlight of the interview was the admission by Ms. Albolm that earlier in her career she thought that college athletic departments would embrace the idea of athletic trainers reporting directly to someone outside the athletic department who was a medical professional.  Maintaining an in house staff of athletic trainers costs a good deal of money and there is no revenue to be generated.  NATA has pushed the idea of having trainers report to physicians in college student health centers, or the team physician in a private practice.

Ms. Albolm learned quickly that this idea would be strongly resisted by coaches and athletic directors.  The reason is that coaches want to maintain control of all aspects of a program.  A newly hired football or basketball coach often wants to bring in his or her own person to head the athletic training staff.

The sad truth is that a person can have several years of experience working for a school as its head trainer and a new coach can come in and simply fire the existing training staff and bring in his or her own people.  This of course is a clear threat to any idea of job security.

It also suggests, however, that trainers may be put under pressure to clear players to return to action against the trainer’s better judgment.  It has to have a possible impact when a trainer knows that if a coach becomes displeased with decisions the trainer is making the coach can simply bring in someone else.

This is particularly troubling when looking at return to play following a concussion.  Such decisions can be subjective anyway.  The current model used at many NCAA schools would seem to be a flawed model.  Cross the coach and lose your job may resonate with trainers as they face tough decisions.

Critics of college athletics argue that head coaches have too much power.  There is a problem with a decision-making model involving medical decisions affecting athletes when those decisions are ultimately left to non-medical people.  This seems like one more example of the tail wagging the dog.

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