Repetitive Head Impact Exposure in College Football Following an NCAA Rule Change to Eliminate Two-A-Day Preseason Practices: A Study from the NCAA-DoD CARE Consortium

Ann Biomed Eng. 2019 Oct;47(10):2073-2085. doi: 10.1007/s10439-019-02335-9. Epub 2019 Aug 6.


Repetitive head impact exposure sustained by athletes of contact sports has been hypothesized to be a mechanism for concussion and a possible explanation for the high degree of variability in sport-related concussion biomechanics. In an attempt to limit repetitive head impact exposure during the football preseason, the NCAA eliminated two-a-day practices in 2017, while maintaining the total number of team practice sessions. The objective of this study was to quantify head impact exposure during the preseason and regular season in Division I college football athletes to determine whether the 2017 NCAA ruling decreased head impact exposure. 342 unique athletes from five NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs were consented and enrolled. Head impacts were recorded using the Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System during the entire fall preseasons and regular seasons in 2016 and 2017. Despite the elimination of two-a-day practices, the number of preseason contact days increased in 2017, with an increase in average hourly impact exposure (i.e., contact intensity), resulting in a significant increase in total head impact burden (+ 26%) for the 2017 preseason. This finding would indicate that the 2017 NCAA ruling was not effective at reducing the head impact burden during the football preseason. Additionally, athletes sustained a significantly higher number of recorded head impacts per week (+ 40%) during the preseason than the regular season, implicating the preseason as a time of elevated repetitive head impact burden. With increased recognition of a possible association between repetitive head impact exposure and concussion, increased preseason exposure may predispose certain athletes to a higher risk of concussion during the preseason and regular season. Accordingly, efforts at reducing concussion incidence in contact sports should include a reduction in overall head impact exposure.

Keywords: Acceleration; Injury biomechanics; Sport-related concussion; Traumatic brain injury.

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Athletes
  • Football / physiology*
  • Head / physiology*
  • Head Protective Devices
  • Humans
  • Telemetry
  • Universities