To Gene Egdorf, it doesn't make sense. How can the NCAA sanction a coach or program for impermissable text messages, phone calls and other recruiting violations but choose to not even investigate programs when an athletes dies?
The Houston attorney for The Lanier Law Firm has represented two families in wrongful death lawsuits against the universities and the NCAA. Dale Lloyd II died at Rice in 2006 from complications from sickle cell trait, leading to an undisclosed settlement and a recommendation by the school to the NCAA that all Division I athletes be tested for that trait. That went into effect this past academic year.
Egdorf currently represents the family of Bennie Abram, a 20-year-old walk-on at Ole Miss who died in 2010 from complications from sickle cell trait.
"Why aren't we punishing those coaches that are violating the medical handbook and guidelines and the other things that are out there?" Egdorf said.
In short, the explanation the NCAA gives is that protecting the healthy and safety of student-athletes is up to the institutions. And while the NCAA has medical guidelines, cases of sudden death in student athletes often don't include a violation of bylaws.
Instead, the NCAA leaves the question of negligence or liability up to civil courts.
"If it's a bylaw issue, then we would look at it," said David Klossner, the NCAA director of health and safety. "What we're saying is we go above and beyond what's required by funding research on sudden death and catastrophic injury."
Indeed, the NCAA does help fund the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at North Carolina. Each year it receives reports about deaths and catastrophic injury, and a 20-person medical committee can make recommendations for changes to the guidelines.
The NCAA has had guidelines on the books for dealing with sickle cell trait since 1975. They were revised again in June 2008 after the National Athletic Trainers Association issued its consensus statement on the trait.
Some suggest, though, that the NCAA might go further to define what sorts of workouts are allowed or prohibited in the offseason. Currently, the NCAA puts limits on when teams can have mandatory practices, such as for spring football, and voluntary ones, typically during the spring and summer. Voluntary workouts are supervised by the strength and conditioning coach.
Klossner said the guidelines are meant to help the membership, but that the NCAA wouldn't legislate what coaches can and can't do in the offseason.
"They elect to run their practices as they see fit," he said. "We hope that they're doing it in the best interest of the student-athlete well being and care."