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NCAA Settles Concussion Lawsuit, Establishes $70M Screening Fund

Under a tentative settlement agreement announced Tuesday, the NCAA would establish a $70 million fund to screen former and current athletes for concussions. Current high school athletes who hope to continue their athletic careers once they arrive at college will not be eligible for such screenings, however, as the settlement only covers players who had competed in an NCAA-sanctioned contest as of the tentative settlement date.

The pending agreement will settle several class-action concussion lawsuits filed against the association over the past few years—the chief plaintiff of one was a former football player at Eastern Illinois University, a lead plaintiff of another was a former University of Central Arkansas wide receiver—assuming U.S. District Judge John Lee approves the terms of the settlement.

If approved, the NCAA would create a $70 million "medical monitoring fund" for all current or former NCAA student-athletes "who played an NCAA-sanctioned sport at an NCAA member institution on or prior" to the preliminary approval date (Tuesday). To participate in the monitoring program, members of the settlement class will be required to complete a screening questionnaire, which will assess self-reported symptoms and cognitive, mood, behavioral, and motor problems that could be tied to post-concussion syndrome.

A newly created Medical Science Committee will determine a score threshold for the screening questionnaire. If a former or current student-athlete surpasses that threshold, he or she will be eligible for a medical evaluation valued at $4,000, according to ESPN.com. Those in the settlement class cannot complete a screening questionnaire more than once every five years before the age of 50, and not more than once every two years after the age of 50.

If the fund is depleted before the 50-year monitoring period expires, former and current players "may pursue on an individual, non-class basis claims seeking medical monitoring," under the terms of the settlement.

The medical monitoring program is the headliner, but it's not the only notable portion of the settlement. The NCAA also agreed to mandate preseason baseline testing for all student-athletes and ensure that "medical personnel with training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of concussion are present" at all football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, ice hockey, field hockey, and soccer games at Division I, II, and III institutions.

Furthermore, all member institutions will be required to conduct concussion education and training with student-athletes, coaches, and athletic trainers during the 50-year medical monitoring period. The association will also create a "reporting process through which member institutions will report to the NCAA instances of diagnosed concussions in NCAA student-athletes and their resolution."

Under the terms of the settlement, the NCAA also must contribute $5 million "over a period not to exceed 10 years" to research concussion prevention, treatment, and/or effects.

At least one advocate for student-athletes wasn't thrilled with the terms of the settlement, however.

"This preliminary concussion settlement isn't even on the radar of what should be a fair agreement," said Ramogi Huma, head of the College Athletes Players Association, to Tim Dahlberg of The Associated Press. "It offers no resources for players who are struggling with the effects of traumatic brain injury. Not one penny."

The settlement remains tentative at the moment, and if the NFL's experience with its own proposed concussion settlement is any indication, changes could still be coming here, too. There's no denying that Tuesday represented a major step forward for the NCAA, however, as the association appears closer than ever to putting a significant legal challenge to rest. (The Ed O'Bannon lawsuit over student-athletes' likeness rights, on the other hand, still looms.)

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