The NCAA denies suppressing information about concussions to college athletes and says it isn’t responsible for injuries sustained by a former Samford women’s soccer player.

Mary Shelton Wells, who played soccer at Samford from 2008 to 2010, sued the NCAA last September in Mobile County Circuit Court, alleging she would have quit soccer and not sustained a third concussion if the NCAA had not suppressed facts about head injuries. The suit attempts to prove the NCAA knew about past scholarly literature published about the long-term risks of concussions and attacks the NCAA’s concussion management plan.

In its answer filed last month, the NCAA denied that it has known for many years of studies demonstrating that multiple concussions in a football player can cause severe cognitive problems, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

“The NCAA further affirmatively states that for decades it has provided appropriate information and guidance on concussions to its member institutions, including information to be disseminated to student-athletes,” the NCAA said in its response.

The NCAA applied 45 defenses in response to Wells’ allegations. Among them: the NCAA is not guilty of any allegations in the complaint; Wells’ claims are barred due to her own conduct by continuing to play soccer after having suffered two concussions in high school;  and Wells voluntarily participated in college sports and assumed any and all risks inherent in the sports she chose to play.

The NCAA has been in mediation talks with attorneys from a federal class-action case in the Adrian Arrington lawsuit. Last month, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated many of the federal cases into the Northern District of Illinois. The Wells suit, filed in state court in Alabama, is not part of that consolidation.

The NFL is trying to finalize a $765 million concussion settlement with more than 4,500 retired players — a dollar amount some ex-players have criticized. The players will not have to show their injuries were caused by football.

Anyone who receives the NFL payout can’t sue the NCAA or any youth football organization, according to The Washington Times. Two weeks ago, the first class-action concussion lawsuit involving high schools was filed against the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Wells said in the suit that she now suffers from migraine headaches and is sensitive to changes in light and sound. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The suit cites many past studies linking head injuries to potentially long term brain damage that Wells says the NCAA knew. For example, she claims the NCAA knew of a 2005 University of North Carolina study that “found a clear link between previous head injuries and the likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment and early-onset Alzheimer’s,” yet the NCAA did not “act on it or alert its student-athletes of these known risks.”

The NCAA’s response: “The NCAA states that the 2005 UNC-Chapel Hill study titled ‘Association Between Recurrent Concussion and Late-Life Cognitive Impairment in Retired Professional Football Players’ speaks for itself, and to the extent the allegations in Paragraph 62 vary therewith, the NCAA denies those allegations. The NCAA denies any and all remaining allegations in paragraph 62.”

Wells argues that the NCAA’s Health and Safety Group developed a one-page concussion fact sheet for college athletes in 2010 that provided no warning about immediate or long-term consequences of concussions.

The NCAA’s response: “The NCAA states that the 2010 Concussion Fact Sheet speaks for itself, and to the extent the allegations in paragraph 69 vary therewith, the NCAA denies those allegations. The NCAA denies any and all remaining allegations in paragraph 69.”

Wells attacks the NCAA’s concussion management policy in which schools are required to have a plan, but it’s not enforced by the NCAA. The NCAA denied that its concussion management plan legislation from 2010 is “toothless.”

Wells claims the NCAA plan “puts the onus of concussion management on the student-athletes by requiring that they sign a statement in which they accept the responsibility for reporting their injuries and illness to the institutional medical staff, including signs and symptoms of concussions.”

The NCAA’s response: “The NCAA states that the (concussion management plan) speaks for itself, and to the extent the allegations in paragraph 71 vary therewith, the NCAA denies those allegations. The NCAA denies the remaining allegations of paragraph 71 of the complaint and demands strict proof thereof.”

By Jon Solomon |
on January 09, 2014 at 1:53 PM


Two weeks after the NFL agreed to settle its concussion lawsuit for $765 Million, all eyes have turned to the NCAA and whether it will now settle Arrington v. National Collegiate Athletic Association – the most notable concussion litigation involving the college ranks.

In many ways, the Arrington lawsuit (which is currently in mediation) will be challenging to settle. One reason for this is because the NCAA is composed of 1200 members rather than just 32  — a factor complicates achieving association-wide consensus on a settlement.

Nevertheless, settlement of the NCAA concussion lawsuit seems to be in college sports’ best financial and public relations interests.  At the same time, the NCAA may be interested in settling the case given its recent agreement to mediation.

From a legal perspective, a number of factors seem to make the NCAA’s risk exposure, if it does not settle, far greater than that of the NFL.  For example, the NCAA may owe a greater “duty of care” to its athletes because it purports to exist for the very purpose  “to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive (sic) athletic practices of the time.”  By contrast, the NFL has generally held itself out as nothing more than a collection of profitmaking businesses.
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By Marc Edelman
September 12, 2013