May 22, 2024 4 min read

The Risks of Failing to Prioritize the Health and Safety of College Athletes


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Creating a culture that prioritizes athlete health and safety is the responsibility of everyone involved in collegiate athletics, not just healthcare personnel. Failure to do so creates risk for the institution and those it serves. It can literally be an issue of life or death. Dr. Jim Borchers, president of the U.S. Council for Athletes’ Health (USCAH), recently spoke with Vector Solutions about the importance of collegiate athlete health and safety and the risks of not making it a priority.


Top Three Risks of Failing to Prioritize Athlete Health and Safety

When educational institutions make athlete health and safety a priority it exposes everyone involved – the players, the coaches, the administrators, the athletic program, and the institution as a whole – to serious risks. Some of the top areas of risk include:

  1. Catastrophic injury or death. In the 2021-2022 school year, the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR) reported 65 catastrophic injuries among high school and college athletes. While rare, these incidents can be life-altering for the players, and in the worst cases, deadly. Borchers notes that often these situations are preventable. Heat illness, for example, “is 100% preventable with proper training. And yet every year there are more deaths,” he said. “Failing to provide proper training to coaches and staff members on these critical health and safety issues puts students’ lives at risk.”
  2. Legal and financial. Coaches have been the subject of lawsuits and, in some situations, have been criminally charged after athletes suffered catastrophic injury or death. Lawsuits can also be brought against the institution. It is the institution’s responsibility to train its coaches and staff on how to prevent injury – and it is the staff member’s responsibility to act on that training and train the athletes on how to protect themselves from injury. Failure to do so can result in financial risk to the institution, and the individuals involved – and in some cases, jail time.
  3. Reputation. When a catastrophic injury or death on campus could have been avoided, it can have an impact on the reputation of the athletic program and the institution. “There is an overall inherent risk of being branded as an institution that doesn’t care,” Borchers says. A reputation of having a climate of indifference about athlete health and safety can gravely hurt recruitment efforts for the athletic program and may tarnish the reputation of the entire institution.

College athletic departments of all shapes and sizes – from varsity sports to intramural sports and rec leagues – all risk reputational and financial liability when student-athlete health, safety, and well-being are not prioritized. “There is no area more important with respect to safeguarding athletes and reducing risk and liability for institutions,” Borchers said in a recent USCAH blog post: “College athletics provide amazing opportunities for to pursue their dreams both in athletics and education equipping them for future success. Failing to appropriately prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of athletes puts those dreams at risk.”

Institutions can minimize institutional risk and help prevent tragedies by educating students and training employees in injury prevention and how to respond when injuries occur. Creating a culture where health and safety are the top priorities will help protect both the institution and the athletes it serves.

How Vector Can Help

Vector Solutions provides resources and expert-authored online training courses for college and university staff, students, and administrators. These resources and courses focus on critical athlete health safety and wellness topics. Learn more about how to support athletes’ health and safety:

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