Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania have been chosen to participate in what has been billed as the largest study of concussion and head trauma ever conducted.
The $30 million research project, paid for by the NCAA and the Department of Defense, also involves 28 additional schools and health-care institutions, including Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It was launched in 2014.
The study eventually will track about 25,000 student athletes. Each volunteer will receive a comprehensive preseason medical evaluation.
"We'll be looking at what happens from the time someone gets a concussion through recovery and reentry to playing sports again," said Dianne Langford, associate professor of neuroscience at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple.
"There's still a lot that's not known about concussion," Langford said. "This will increase our understanding, help improve outcomes, and protect the players."
Since 2009, when the NFL agreed there was a link between head trauma and long-term medical effects, participation in high school football programs has fallen by 27,000 players, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
"I think there's a fear now of playing sports like football, soccer, and rugby," said researcher Ryan Tierney, an associate professor of kinesiology at Temple. "This study is a good start at trying to address some questions that may allay some fears."
Interest in concussions peaked last year when the NFL agreed to pay $1 billion to settle with thousands of retired football players with neurological disorders. The recent movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, portrayed one doctor's long crusade to get the NFL to acknowledge the sometimes deadly effects of repeated blows to the head.
Phase Two of the NCAA project, formally called the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education (CARE) Consortium, will study why some athletes with concussions suffer long-term effects while others don't.
Prior research has focused only on male-dominated sports, football in particular, said lead researcher Steven Broglio, director of the University of Michigan's NeuroSport Research Laboratory.
"We're looking at men and women student athletes in every sport," Broglio said.
Temple and Penn were picked because each had research experience and rigorous clinical protocols, he said.
"We were also looking for geographic diversity across divisions and conferences," Broglio said. "And when you get every athlete, you get a good racial diversity, too."