CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a reworked head-injury settlement between thousands of former college athletes and the NCAA that includes a $70 million fund to test for brain trauma.
U.S. District Judge John Lee praised the new deal for expanding potential plaintiffs to athletes from sports beyond football, hockey and other contact sports. But he suggested several changes, most notably ones modifying what would have been a blanket protection for the NCAA from class-action lawsuits over concussions, something the organization might find unacceptable.
The core of the agreement remains largely the same. That includes the NCAA creating the fund to test current and former athletes for brain injuries they say they suffered while playing collegiate sports. The tests would gauge the extent of neurological injuries and could establish grounds for individual athletes seeking damages.
The NCAA is also required to toughen return-to-play rules after a concussion, and all athletes will take baseline neurological tests to start each year to help doctors determine the severity of any concussion during the season. A new, independent Medical Science Committee will oversee the medical testing.
“To the extent that the Settling Plaintiffs and the NCAA are agreeable to these modifications or are otherwise able to address the Court’s concerns, preliminary approval of the amended class settlement is granted,” Lee wrote in his 53-page ruling.
The NCAA admits no wrongdoing in the settlement and has denied understating the dangers of concussions. Its chief legal officer, Donald Remy, issued a cautiously worded statement that did not indicate whether the organization might have concerns about the ruling.
“While we are pleased the court has provided a preliminary pathway to provide significant resources for the medical monitoring of student-athletes who may suffer concussion, we are still examining the conditions placed on preliminary approval,” he said.
Jay Edelson, a Chicago-based attorney for athletes who had long opposed the settlement, said he was pleased with the judge’s provisions for scaling back NCAA immunity from future suits. He said he believed the proposal would probably bar national class-action suits but also allow class actions against individual schools or, in some cases, even the NCAA.
“So we are thrilled,” he said. He said the NCAA might conclude the scaling back of class-action protections is a poison pill…