Published: June 13, 2019
Athletic Director Rick George leads panel discussion about student-athlete health and wellness programs

CU Boulder, through its research and Athletic Department practices, is recognized as a national leader for student-athlete health and wellness programs, a panel of university experts told the University of Colorado Board of Regents on Thursday.

"We come to work every day with student-athlete safety and wellness at the forefront of what we do,” said Athletic Director Rick George, who moderated the panel.

In recent years, the Athletic Department has expanded programming for mental health services, nutrition, career development, sports medicine and strength and conditioning. For example, with additional staffing, mental health counselors now see around 35 student-athletes a week. About three-quarters of student-athletes take advantage of this service during their time at CU.

“I’m pleased with the advancements the Athletic Department has made in all these areas the past six years under Rick George’s leadership,” Chancellor Phil DiStefano told the regents during the board meeting’s host campus report. “The Pac-12 and CU have been among the best in the nation when it comes to making student-athlete health and wellness the No. 1 priority.”

The panel included Miguel A. Rueda, senior associate athletic director of health and performance; Matt McQueen, associate professor, integrative physiology; Theresa Hernandez, associate dean of research for the College of Arts and Sciences and professor, psychology and neuroscience; Joseph Jupille, professor and faculty athletic representative; and Dr. Eric McCarty, head team physician.

During the question-and-answer session, Regent Linda Shoemaker praised George and his team for their work on health and wellness. Shoemaker also said she opposed the makeup of the panel only including CU employees and requested a more robust concussion discussion with a variety of viewpoints.

George said he would like to host a national conference on concussions featuring the nation’s top experts. Shoemaker and Chair Sue Sharkey both thought it was a great idea.

Regent Heidi Ganahl recalled that she and her brother played soccer and sustained concussions. Ganahl and Regent Glen Gallegos asked to broaden the discussion on how CU responds to all concussions, including those sustained by students skiing or playing club sports.

“It’s limiting to just talk about football,” Ganahl said. “Let’s not silo this into just a conversation about football. Let’s talk about all concussions and how we can tackle this together.”

McQueen and Hernandez spoke about research projects they are leading thanks to Pac-12 grants as part of the Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative.

McQueen, a Harvard-trained epidemiologist, is the director of the Pac-12 Concussion Coordinating Unit. McQueen’s research, which includes tests from virtual reality goggles, will assess concussion impacts for sports at all Pac-12 universities. Hernandez is leading a first-of-its-kind study of 2,000 alumni who graduated during the past quarter-century to assess psychological and psychical impacts that student-athletes and the general student body experience after leaving CU.

In recent years, CU Athletics has also improved practices and protocols to provide better concussion education, prevention and recovery. For example, the football team follows Pac-12 protocol that limits contact practices to two per week. CU also ensures every student-athlete is educated about head injury risks and how to prevent them. The Athletic Department has strict protocols for concussion recovery: Student-athletes do not return to activity until all symptoms are gone.