Virginia Tech Athletics and Academics are teaming up to make football a safer sport.
The Tech football team and the College of Engineering are working together to reduce the risk of concussion and brain damage in football.
“This is a joint project with sports medicine out of (the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine], led by Gunner Brolinson, the team physician and Mike Goforth, the head team trainer," said Stefan Duma, professor in the college of engineering. "The three of us have worked together to instrument the football players.”
According to Brolinson, they are the first team in the country to implement helmet research.
Tech athletics rounds up 25 to 30 concussions per year. The football team makes up anywhere from three to five of those concussions, which coincides with the average number for collegiate football.
"The whole idea is to bring risk down,” Duma said.
To achieve this, the team is working to make the game safer by helping clinicians more effectively diagnose concussions.
The study will allow them to evaluate concussions clinically and quantitatively in order to assist sideline physicians.
"It consists of a base station, which is a laptop and antenna set up that we bring out every game, that interacts wirelessly with each helmet," Duma said. "Each helmet has a sensor array put in it called the HIT system, the Head Impact Telemetry System and that consists of six accelerometers, a wireless transmitter and a battery.”
Before this wireless system, each football player wasn’t being monitored, but now the system can monitor the head impact of each player individually.
“Now the physicians can understand, okay this player was hit 50 times and there's five impacts above 80 G's versus otherwise not having that information," Duma said. "That's what the real value of this is that we're actually quantifying the exposure.”
The Tech football team uses various concussion testing systems including ImPACT, SCAT 2 (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool), and BESS (Balance Error Scoring System) to insure the health and safety of its players.
Based on their research efforts, they’re trying to see which test is better to improve the baseline testing of Tech athletes.
“We’ll be able to look back and say we were a part of that,” said Mike Goforth, lead trainer for the Tech football team.
To categorize the helmets, Duma developed a Star ranking system, which ranks helmets on a scale from one to five stars.
The results of the research now show that certain helmets, such as Ridell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus and Ridell Revolution Speed, are better than others due to their five-star ranking.
"Before our rating system came out there was no way to go anywhere and see which helmets were better than others,” Duma said. "About half the teams in college and NFL were using these (the Ridell VSR4 helmet), including us.”
Since the release of the ratings, football teams have switched out of the previously used Ridell VSR4 helmet for higher-ranked helmets.
The Star system takes the exposure a player sees and evaluates it in the laboratory to determine which helmets work the best.
“Exercise is important and you want to do it in the safest possible environment,” Duma said.
The bioengineering partnership between Tech and Wake Forest, which Duma is involved in, is working with three youth football teams near each university to also determine a Star system for their helmets.