Man, Sally Jenkins brings the righteous indignation today.
Heatstroke didn’t kill Jordan McNair, the berserk excesses of coach DJ Durkin and his staff did. No amount of “honoring” McNair can pretty up that fact. The investigation into what Maryland did wrong after McNair collapsed is misplaced. It’s what came first — the deranged college coaching mentality that drove McNair to the staggering point — that requires full inquiry, and no one should be allowed to forget it.
An NFL player hasn’t died from heat exertion in 17 years. That’s the full measure of the crude, knuckle-dragging stupidity at work here. You know how many kids NCAA football coaches have killed with conditioning drills in that same period? Twenty-seven. I say “kill,” because that’s what it is, when tyrants force captive young men to run themselves to death, out of their own outdated fears of weakness. Why is the NCAA tolerating this kill rate, which is unmatched at any other level of football?
Now there’s a question I’d love to hear someone ask Mark “The NCAA is all about the student-athlete” Emmert.
Sadly, in this case, it isn’t about the money. Virginia monitors its players body temperatures by means of a technology that costs $60,000 a year — a shitload less than you can expect Maryland’s gonna pay out to McNair’s family. Nor is it particularly exotic.
Virginia put the system in use earlier this month when the Cavaliers started fall camp. The technology itself is about 20 years old, Pugh said. In fact, she used it when she did her thesis for her Master’s degree at Florida 16 years ago.
No, this is about a peculiar mindset unique to college athletics.
Since 2000, there have been 40 athlete fatalities in conditioning sessions in multiple sports across the NCAA, yet not a single death on the field, according to Casa. This despite the fact that schools have all the education and tools to prevent it: Heatstroke exertion is 100-percent survivable with a thermometer and some ice. The NFL has eliminated it altogether and to its credit continues to consult with the Stringer Institute on research and best practices to prevent sudden deaths. The NCAA, on the other hand, has remained lethally antiquated. Unlike NFL players, collegians have “no voice, and no rights,” Casa pointed out. McNair was forced to run 10 sprints of 110 yards, until his body temperature was 106. It was a nonsensical workout that had zero football relevance and demonstrated nothing about his character except that he was willing to work himself into a coma for fear of punishment from an all-powerful authority figure. “It’s a totally unregulated environment,” Casa said.
University of Oklahoma trainer Scott Anderson has a term for this idiotic and outmoded brand of collegiate workout: “irrational intensity.”
Anderson wrote a 2017 academic paper entitled, “NCAA Football Off-Season Training: Unanswered Prayers,” that documents the stunning kill rate in the college game.
“Collegiate football’s dirty little secret is that we are killing our players — not in competition, almost never in practice, and rarely because of trauma — but primarily because of non-traumatic causes in the off-season alleged to performance enhance,” he wrote.
Anderson cites the example of a player who died from exertion-induced asthma, after being forced to run 2,160 yards of serial sprints in just 12 minutes, with a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio. You know what the work-to-rest ratio in an actual football game is? Somewhere between 1:8 and 1:10. Even in a hurry-up offense, it’s 1:4.
Coaches conduct these workouts for only one reason: because they have backward notions of man-making and are completely unread in the latest sports science. Mesozoic notions die hard..
You’d like to think this would be easy to stop, but as Jenkins notes, Durkin’s not exactly a lone wolf here. If he stays in the job, I doubt it becomes much of an issue on the recruiting trail, even as he assures moms he’ll take care of their sons, because he’s far from alone out there.
Too bad the concept of a players union for student-athletes is anathema.