When John Madden calls, people tend to listen to what he has to say.
Recently, West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck got a telephone call from the former Oakland Raiders coach and nationally known television commentator about the possibility of joining the NFL Player Safety Advisory Panel established by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Luck, whose oldest son, Andrew, is the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, and who himself is a former NFL player, thought the opportunity to help the sport was too good to pass up, despite having what seems like a 24-hour-a-day job overseeing the Mountaineer athletic department these days.
“They do two meetings a year - at the Hall of Fame Game in Canton (Ohio), which is really convenient and then at the Super Bowl, as well as some monthly conference calls,” Luck said.
The panel is a mixture of former players, coaches and executives, chaired by Madden and former San Francisco 49ers great Ronnie Lott.
Others serving on the panel include: Ernie Accorsi, Antonio Freeman, Patrick Kerney, Willie Lanier, Steve Mariucci and Anthony Munoz – a veritable Who’s Who of professional football.
“They apparently share a good bit of the information,” Luck said of the player safety advisory panel. “There is a lot of research going on right now at a lot of different levels. In fact, Dr. Julian Bailes (former chair of the WVU Department of Neurosurgery) was in town recently doing a presentation to the state chiropractic group, and I went over to listen to that because I knew I was going to be on this committee and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
“It was a very interesting presentation and there is a lot of research going on, not just in the NFL. The military is doing studies, high schools are doing studies … just getting up to speed and staying up to speed, with all of the studies that are coming out will certainly help when I begin.”
Luck cited one recent study
he saw published by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) that, very surprisingly, revealed that NFL players had a longer life expectancy than their average American male counterparts.
Another study Luck saw indicated that there are more instances of head trauma suffered by girls’ soccer players than high school football players.
“There are lots of misconceptions out there that we really don’t know about, and as I read through the binders of the (advisory panel) meeting minutes, clearly one of the key things is to gather as much reliable data as we can and begin to sift through and really find out what’s going on,” Luck explained. “How many injuries really take place during preseason? As the season goes on, how does that affect the safety of the game? Is the season the right length? Is the field too narrow? There is a similar argument in basketball … should the key be wider when guys are 7-feet tall playing in the post?”
Luck has a deep understanding of many of the issues the panel will take up because he once experienced them as a player. He recalls at least two instances during his days quarterbacking the Mountaineers when he played with a serious concussion, and at least one instance during his five seasons with the Houston Oilers when he also played with a concussion.
“The Hawaii game during my junior year, I was knocked out,” Luck said, while also noting that when he came to he ultimately returned to the game.
“(Injuries are) certainly an issue, there is no question about it,” Luck said. “The science is so much farther ahead than it was 30 years ago. Guys are bigger, faster, stronger, and the equipment is much better.
“You can’t take the physical nature of the game out of the game, but there are ways to protect the players,” he added. “The interesting thing about this committee is, based on what Madden has told me, is they view their mission as player safety in a very broad sense.”
“They view their responsibility on this panel as including all aspects of the game. Everyone views it as just concussions. No. It’s everything. It’s how many preseason games should the NFL play? It’s the most popular sport in the country, by far, and to make the game safe, I think you have to look at issues across the board from training camp, to OTAs (Organized Team Activities) during the off-season, how much time do these guys need? So it’s more than just the brain trauma thing, which is a hot-button issue, and it clearly deserves a lot of attention.”
And just as importantly, a lot of the data Luck will have access to on the NFL Player Safety Advisory Panel he will be able to share with his colleagues on the collegiate level as well.
“It is true what grade school and high school kids see on Sunday afternoon in the NFL is what they try to mimic,” he explained. “Certainly that is also true of college, and I think whatever research is done at the NFL level will quickly filter down into the colleges and the high schools.”
Luck mentioned that is only one of several committees Commissioner Goodell has set up to help improve the game.
“I think they are trying to gather as much information and get as much input as they possibly can. It’s pretty clear that they are taking this very seriously and they have to,” Luck concluded.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.