Background: Football players compete with a high risk of injury due to the sport. With the recent efforts to improve safety, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) established new terminology to clearly define exposure types and reduce the number of high contact exposures.
Objectives: To compare football injury rates (IR) with a focus on game versus practice, time in season of injury, mechanism of injury and utilizing recent exposure types defined by the NCAA (live contact, full-pads and non-contact).
Methods: Licensed medical professionals monitored a college football program regular season from 2012-2015. Each injury was classified by timing of the injury, mechanism of injury, and whether it occurred in game or practice. Player attendance and type of exposure (non-contact, full-pad or live contact, which involves live tackling to the ground and/or full-speed blocking and can occur in full-pad or half-pad ('shell') equipment) was documented. IR were calculated per 1000 athlete-exposures (AE). Mid-exact P tests compared rates between variables.
Results: The game IR was over three times as high as the practice IR (p < .001). Live contact exposures had the greatest IR of 5.702/1000 AE and were seven times more likely to produce an injury compared to non-contact exposures (p < .001); whereas, live contact exposures were about two times more likely to produce an injury compared to full-pad exposures (p = .004). The majority of injuries observed occurred from a contact mechanism (IR: 2.508/1000 AE). The highest IR during the fall football season occurred in the pre-season at 5.769/1000 AE.
Conclusion: Overall IR observed in this cohort were lower than prior studies published before recent NCAA rule changes and guideline implementation to improve athlete safety. Athletes in this cohort were at significantly increased risk of injury from live contact exposures.
Keywords: Football (American); epidemiology; injury prevention; non-contact exposures.