In July, Ivy League football teams announced plans to limit contact during practices to cut back collision time. And more schools are using concussion screening programs to compare players' brain function after a hit to baseline measurements taken pre-season.
"A brain injury is not like an ankle or knee injury; you can't tape it up," said Dr. Allen Sills, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Sports Concussion Center. "Really, you can't play with a partial brain injury."
Only 10 percent of concussions lead to a loss of consciousness, according to Dr. Sills. And competitive players often feel compelled to play through the commoner, subtler symptoms like fatigue, headache and nausea.
"That's where other, more objective measures of brain function really come in handy," said Sills. "If you suffered an injury and you're not being forthcoming about your symptoms, we can measure your performance and compare it to baseline. Then we know that regardless of what you're telling us, your brain's not ready for play."
Improvements in equipment can reduce concussion risk, but will never eliminate it.
"Certainly we know that these are important factors," said Sills. "But helmets are never going to prevent concussions any more than seatbelts are going to prevent car accidents."
Similarly, stricter return-to-play guidelines and limitations on contact during practices will make sports safer, but not completely safe.
"So long as there are contact sports, there will always be concussions," said Flanagan. "There's no way around it other than to not participate."
Sheely was a senior history and political science major and two-year All-Atlantic Central Football Conference all-academic honoree, according to a Frostburg State spokeswoman. He will be posthumously awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Liberal Studies, cum laude.