Jun 10, 2015
New SEC Commissioner: Coaches Should Have Say On Medical Staff

Team physicians and athletic trainers continue to call for autonomy from athletic departments in an effort to reduce coaches’ influence on medical decisions about student-athletes. One of the sticking points is whether coaches should have a say in the hiring of medical professionals. On Monday, comments from incoming Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sanke in a Wall Street Journal article inflamed the controversy and outraged the medical community.

“A coach is going to trust the person he hires,” Sanke said. “If it’s someone he doesn’t get to choose, sometimes that can lead to more conflict or questioning. The trust isn’t there.”

The medical community was up in arms about Sanke’s comments, which come in the midst of a campaign by the NCAA’s new Chief Medical Officer, Brian Hainline, to give medical professionals unchallengeable autonomy from coaches and athletic departments. Sanke’s statements also come as more and more litigation is underway surrounding student-athlete injuries and schools’ failure to follow protocol.

“For the medical community, given the caveat that Sanke was quoted correctly, his statement is just short of outrageous,” James Tucker, Head Team Physician at Syracuse University told Training & Conditioning. “I certainly disagree with the idea that coaches should hire their medical staff. That’s a conflict of interest. Medical people should do what medical people do, and coaches should do what they do. My job is to protect the health of the kids. My training enables me to do that far better than any coach I’ve met yet. With the pressures that coaches are under, I think it’s hard for them to be objective, especially when they don’t have the depth of knowledge that the medical staff does.”

The Wall Street Journal cites a study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, in which nearly half of major-college football athletic trainers said they’ve been pressured to clear concussed students to play before they were ready. Investigations of misconduct along these lines are underway for multiple teams at the University of Illinois.

“Doctors should have complete autonomy to operate in the best interest of players,” Hainline told The Wall Street Journal.  

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