CHICAGO — The NCAA has agreed to settle a head injury lawsuit by providing $70 million for concussion testing and diagnosis of current and former student athletes in a move expected to change the way such injuries are handled at colleges nationwide, according to court documents filed in Chicago on Tuesday.
The class-action agreement, if approved by a federal judge and class members, applies to student athletes in all sports who have played at NCAA member schools at any time in the past until 50 years in the future.
The settlement does not include bodily injury claims, which plaintiff attorney Steve Berman said should be handled on an individual basis. He said the settlement is aimed at protecting student athletes on the field.
“The whole goal of my clients is to change the way the NCAA handles concussions,” Berman said. “We’re very hopeful this will cut down on the number of concussions and people returning to play too early.”
A hearing on the NCAA agreement is scheduled for 2 p.m. CDT in Chicago but U.S. District Judge John Lee is not expected to make a decision on whether to grant the settlement preliminary approval until sometime in August, Berman said.
The danger of concussions and other head injuries has received increased attention in college and professional sports in recent years. A settlement between the National Football League and thousands of former players, who contend the league played down the risk of concussions, was granted preliminary approval by a federal judge earlier this month.
The lawsuit was first filed in 2011 on behalf of former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington, who said he suffers from headaches and seizures as a result of concussions. The proposed settlement covers 14 consolidated cases.
Former University of Maine ice hockey player Kyle Solomon joined the lawsuit in 2013.
Solomon, who suffered four concussions while at UMaine, said in February 2013 that Berman’s law firm told him it wanted to “change the NCAA’s return-to-play policy and thought my situation at UMaine would be a good example. It wasn’t that [my concussions] weren’t treated. But they weren’t treated as seriously as they should have been because the NCAA didn’t have a [strong enough] rule in place.”
“This is nothing against … Maine hockey,” he said. “It was an honor to play for Maine. I loved playing for them. It was a shame it had to stop.”
The proposed NCAA settlement is about 10 percent of the $760 million settlement between the National Football League and thousands of former players, which was granted preliminary approval by a federal judge earlier this month.
The settlement also calls for the NCAA to contribute $5 million for concussion research, although research done by member schools can be credited toward that amount.
The NCAA settlement addresses a number of guidelines, including that a student with a concussion will not be allowed to return to play or practice on the same day and must be cleared by a doctor.
Also, medical personnel must be present for all games and available for practices. The settlement also establishes a process for schools to report concussions.
More than 450,000 NCAA student athletes compete in 23 sports.
The NCAA makes about $740 million revenue each year, according to court documents.
BDN sports writer Larry Mahoney contributed to this report.