While area school systems provided football-related concussion numbers when asked, East Tennessee State University officials said federal law blocked them from releasing numbers.
College officials cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in declining to provide the information.
Two of ETSU’s Southern Conference rivals, Wofford College and The Citadel, presumably under the same legal obligations, did provide the approximate non-identifying figures requested on how many concussions its players suffered in football practice and games.
“FERPA prohibits the disclosure of education records without a student's consent,” said Lisa Williams, who serves as the university’s associate counsel. “The information requested falls into the education record category. While we can't speak to the actions of other institutions, FERPA disclosures signed by students at those institutions may permit the disclosure of the requested information. The FERPA disclosure signed by ETSU athletes does not.”
All of the area public high school systems contacted did provide the reported number of concussions sustained by their football players. None of these publicly-funded entities cited federal law as a reason they could not be transparent about the concussion numbers.
At Wofford, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Brent Williamson said his head athletic trainer reported about two to three concussions every year over the past five years.
Derek Satterfield, assistant athletic director of athletic communications for The Citadel, reported seven concussions each for 2016, 2015 and 2014, with only two reported in 2013. That includes spring football, preseason camp and in-season practice and games.
When the same question was put to ETSU senior athletic trainer Brett Lewis about concussions suffered by Buccaneer players, he did not have an answer.
“I can’t really comment on that,” he said.
This comes at the time when the university is building an approximately $23 million football stadium for the team, which is 7-17 in the past two seasons since football’s return after a more-than 10-year hiatus.
It’s unknown if ETSU’s tight-lipped response to requests about concussion numbers have anything to do with an email that was recently sent out to current and former ETSU student-athletes — many of whom who did not necessarily compete in a contact-heavy sport.
The email, sent by Edward J. Kelly, with ETSU’s office of university counsel, outlines a class action lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, titled “National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation.”
Kelly said ETSU was unofficially contacted by the NCAA for its list of contacts of current and former student-athletes who competed for an ETSU athletics team before July 15, 2016. Mandating a subpoena, which was provided, ETSU tried to get the notice of this class action to as many of those student-athletes as possible, though Kelly said many of them have no listed contact information with the university.
About 3,000 current and former student-athletes received correspondence about this, Kelly said.
Of those, only two have contacted Kelly — with one asking if it was spam, and the other asking what it was. To the latter, Kelly gave a brief synopsis and sent him to the NCAA’s site for more information.
“If you played a NCAA sport at a member school any time prior to July 15, 2016, you may be entitled to free medical screening and may receive free medical testing, known as “medical monitoring,” up to two times over the next 50 years,” the NCAA site reads. “You do not need to have been diagnosed with a concussion to be a member of the medical monitoring class.”
The cutoff date for being a part of this litigation is May 5, 2017, at 10 a.m.