For many of us who enjoy sports, collegiate conferences represent a point of regional bragging rights. Maybe your favorite team won’t win the national championship, but perhaps there’s a measure of comfort in knowing that another team in your conference did (unless it happens to be your archrival).
But conferences aren’t only about athletics. Mostly? Yes. But not only.
The conferences of the country’s biggest schools also have an academic aspect to them as well. Take the Southeastern Conference’s Academic Consortium. The Big Ten also a formal academic consortium called the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which announced Wednesday that it will undertake a concussion research initiative across all 13 of its member schools.
(Yes, the Big Ten’s CIC has 13 members. The Big Ten was 10 schools until admitting Penn State in the 1990s and the University of Nebraska last year. The University of Chicago, once a full athletics affiliate, remains an academic member only.)
“We basically lack across the country great longitudinal information,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN. “So we’re trying to organize ourselves in a way to begin to develop that information. We’ve got 9,500 athletes, so what that is over a four-year period is 40,000 student-athlete years. We’re having important discussions with other major research institutions, the presidents in some of those other conferences, are determining whether or not they want to join with us in this collaboration.”
And it’s not just the number of built-in study participants that’s impressive; it’s that there’s plenty of research capacity to lead such a massive study and synthesize the immense amount of data that comes from it. The Big Ten members — the University of Illinois-Champaign, Indiana University, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, Michigan State, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (along with Chicago) — were awarded a staggering 4,963 grants from the National Institutes of Health in FY11. The sum of those grants was nearly $2.1 billion.
The Big Ten and CIC have been talking about concussions since 2010, and the conference already hosts a traumatic brain injury research collaboration, led by Dennis Molfese, PhD, a professor at Nebraska. (Molfese himself was funded by NIH from 1988 to 2007.)
The next step, ESPN reported, would be to seek funding, most likely from NIH.
“It’s a beginning of a long journey,” Delany said, “but we’re hoping 25 or 30 years from now that the discussions we’re having now, if we’re able to get funding from any number of sources, can provide the long-term research and information to help guide decisions.”
The announcement came on the same day of the publication of a study in Science Translational Medicine that linked the brain damage found in some deceased football players was similar to that found in soldiers who had survived bomb blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The CIC study, should it be funded, could provide a wealth of information on concussions and TBI, helping not only our favorite athletic teams but our soldiers as well.