By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The NCAA has agreed to settle a head injury lawsuit by providing $70 million for concussion testing and diagnosis of student athletes in a move to change the way colleges address sports safety, according to court documents filed on Tuesday.
The class-action agreement, if approved by a federal judge and class members, would apply to student athletes in all sports who played at schools regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at any time in the past and up to 50 years into the future.
The proposed NCAA settlement comes about three weeks after a federal judge's preliminary approval of an open-ended settlement between the National Football League and thousands of former players.
While the money in the NFL settlement was intended to resolve all of the personal injury claims for the plaintiffs' out of pocket damages, Tuesday's proposed NCAA settlement was designed to pay only for research and a medical monitoring program.
"This is about as good as we could have hoped to do at trial," Joseph Siprut, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Reuters of the proposed agreement.
"If the settlement is approved, overnight it's going to change the way sports are played."
The settlement does not include bodily injury claims, which lead plaintiff's attorney Steve Berman said should be handled on an individual basis. He said the settlement is aimed at protecting student athletes on the field.
"The whole goal of my clients is to change the way the NCAA handles concussions," Berman said. "We're very hopeful this will cut down on the number of concussions and people returning to play too early."
The NCAA welcomed the agreement as a means to improve sports safety.
"This agreement's proactive measures will ensure student-athletes have access to high-quality medical care by physicians with experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions," said NCAA Chief Medical officer Brian Hainline in a statement.
The lawsuit was first filed in 2011 on behalf of former Eastern Illinois football player Adrian Arrington, who said he suffers from headaches and seizures as a result of five documented concussions. The proposed settlement covers other cases.
Not all plaintiffs' attorneys were happy with the proposed settlement. Attorney Jay Edelson told U.S. District Judge John Lee at Tuesday's hearing in Chicago that it benefited the NCAA, rather than injured players.
Edelson said players already received medical testing and the settlement would not help them financially to recover from injuries.
The danger of concussions and other head injuries has received increased attention in college and professional sports in recent years with much of the focus on football.
The settlement also calls for the NCAA to contribute $5 million for concussion research, although research done by member schools can be credited toward that amount.
The NCAA settlement addresses a number of guidelines, including that a student with a concussion will not be allowed to return to play or practice on the same day and must be cleared by a doctor.
Also, medical personnel must be present for all games and available for practices. The settlement also establishes a process for schools to report concussions.
Lee set the next hearing on the case for Sept. 19, at which time he may decide on whether to grant a preliminary approval for the settlement. More than 450,000 NCAA student athletes compete in 23 sports. The NCAA makes about $740 million revenue each year, according to court documents.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay)