Adrian Arrington, a former safety at Eastern Illinois University, talks about enduring five concussions while playing, some so severe he has says he couldn't recognize his parents afterward during an interview with The Associated Press at his home Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Bloomington Ill. Subsequent headaches, memory loss, seizures and depression made it difficult to work or even care for his children. On Tuesday, the NCAA agreed to settle a class-action head-injury lawsuit by creating a $70 million fund to diagnose thousands of current and former college athletes to determine if they suffered brain trauma playing football, hockey, soccer and other contact sports. Arrington was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) ORG XMIT: ILSP103
The NCAA agreed Tuesday to settle a class-action head-injury lawsuit by creating a $70 million fund to diagnose thousands of current and former college athletes to determine if they suffered brain trauma playing football, hockey, soccer and other contact sports.
College sports’ governing body also agreed to implement a single return-to-play policy spelling out how all teams must treat players who received head blows, according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Critics have accused the NCAA of giving too much discretion to individual schools about when athletes can go back into games, putting them at risk.
Unlike a proposed settlement in a similar lawsuit against the NFL, this deal stops short of setting aside money to pay players who suffered brain trauma. Instead, athletes can sue individually for damages, and the NCAA-funded tests to gauge neurological injuries could establish grounds for doing that.
The settlement applies to all men and women who participated in basketball, football, ice hockey, soccer, wrestling, field hockey and lacrosse. Those who have played at any time over the last half-century or more at one of the more than 1,000 NCAA member schools qualify for the medical exams.
The parties struck a deal after nearly a year of negotiations, which Joseph Siprut, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney who spearheaded talks with the NCAA, said were sometimes tough.
‘‘I wouldn’t say these changes solve the safety problems, but they do reduce the risks,’’ the Chicago attorney said. ‘‘It’s changed college sports forever.’’
The NCAA, which admits no wrongdoing in the settlement and has denied understating the dangers of concussions, hailed the settlement.
‘‘This agreement’s proactive measures will ensure student-athletes have access to high-quality medical care by physicians with experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions,’’ the NCAA’s chief medical officer, Brian Hainline, said.
Siprut added that stricter rules and oversight should help ensure the viability of football by allaying fears of parents currently inclined to not let their kids play.
‘‘Absent these kinds of changes, the sport will die,’’ Siprut said.
To keep the NCAA from having to hold unwieldy talks with multiple plaintiffs, 10 lawsuits filed nationwide were consolidated into the one case in Chicago, where the first lawsuit was filed in 2011.
Among other settlement terms, all athletes will take baseline neurological tests to start each year to help doctors determine the severity of any concussion during the season; concussion education will be mandated for coaches and athletes; and a new, independent Medical Science Committee will oversee medical testing.
Critics said the agreement lets the NCAA off too easy.
One former UCLA linebacker, Ramogi Huma, said the parties should have followed the lead of the NFL settlement by laying aside money for damages.
‘‘The deal falls painfully short of what players need — comprehensive reform,’’ said Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association. ‘‘I know there is some limit for what the NCAA can do. But zero dollars is unacceptable.’’
The plaintiffs cited a 2010 internal NCAA survey that found almost half of college trainers put athletes with signs of a concussion back into the same game.