Wyoming Football Takes Concussions Seriously

Nov 20, 2015

Credit Bob Beck

It’s been a bad year for concussions for the University of Wyoming football team. While the team does not release exact numbers due to federal health care regulations, media counts put the number above 20. And everyone involved with Cowboy football admits that’s a lot. Head Football Coach Craig Bohl said the high number is surprising.  

“It’s an unusually high number of concussions this year. At the end of the year I’m sure we are going to take a look to see…ok, what factors come into play. Is this a one-time thing that just spiked or are there some things we need to alter?” 

Bohl has coached for a long time and he’s seen years where they’ve had an inordinate number of knee or other injuries. He knows that sometimes these things just happen. But he’s not taking it for granted.

“You I think if you take a long-term look and say what’s going on, there’s going to be spikes from year to year. But I think we would be doing a disservice to our program if we didn’t dig in and look and say why do we have a higher number this year than we’ve had in the past.”

Bohl certainly remembers the days when coaches would tell players that they got their bell rung and should shake it off and return to the game. But thanks to new studies he says Coaches are more aware of long term effects. He says Wyoming does what it can to reduce the likelihood of a head injury.

“We’ve changed our practice policies, I sat on the rules committee a couple of years ago and we’ve altered the kickoff which we felt was a high impact play to where there’s less kickoff collisions. We’ve also changed the helmet to helmet rule has altered how people tackle. So I think there’s a lot that college coaches and high school coaches and professional coaches are doing to make our sport safer.”

Ryan Pinson agrees. He is the Director of Sports Medicine at the University of Wyoming and is the lead football trainer.

“The recent findings with some of the brain injury long-term deficits, the cognitive stuff, dementia, CTE, there is a big awareness.”

Pinson said one of the reasons teams record more concussions than in the past is because people like him are actually looking for them. As he stands on the sidelines during a game he’s watching players to see if something seems off. And he’s not the only one watching.  

“We’ve implemented a medical observer policy where we’re having someone who’s not on the field with another set of eyes that’s trained in sports medicine to recognize concussions as well as injuries, call down and give us notice that…hey, number so and so needs to come off.”

If they sense a problem they will take the player out of the game and evaluate them on the sideline. If they think they are ok they’ll let them go back in. 

“If we think there is something more we will take them to the locker room where we can get into a quiet environment and really look at some of their cognitive functions, interview them, we have some baselines and stuff like that we will go off of.”

Pinson said if there is any chance that the player has a concussion they will hold that player out of the game and or practice. Then they will keep monitoring them and determine when they can return to the active roster. Sometimes that goes quickly and sometimes a player can’t return for several weeks.   

The University isn’t the only one bulking up prevention strategies for concussions. High Schools in the state have also taken the issue more seriously.  State Activities Association Commissioner Ron Laird said they worked for years to set up statewide protocols. Those efforts got a boost when the legislature put those protocols into law. Coaches now are better trained in what to look for. He said many school districts have taken an extra step.

“We also have several schools that have started the impact testing which is a pre-test before anyone has a concussion and then if they do have a concussion they a post-test and do not that kid return to play before they get back to the cognitive level they were at before. So that’s been a positive as well.”

Laird said the new rules and new awareness brought to head injuries has had a positive impact.

“Kids being held out is way up compared to what it used to be and again just because of what we know now compared to what we knew in the past. And we are going to err on the side of safety for sure.”

University of Wyoming Football Coach Craig Bohl said he and his staff do the same thing. And players can’t do anything to change his mind. “When our doctors in the sports medicine department deem that a young man is concussed, that’s how it is and so there is protocol we go through and there is a hard clean and fast line. A guy can come into my office and say Coach…I’m fine, I’m fine, I feel good. That doesn’t hold a lot of water.”

Bohl said any coach that doesn’t take that approach will likely be facing a medical lawsuit if something goes wrong. He’s hoping for a little better luck on the concussion front next year.