Michigan and Michigan State set trend by having neurologists on the sidelines

Nov 1, 2013

No doubt about it — heads are sure to collide on Saturday’s football game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

But when heads collide on the field at Spartan Stadium, two neurologists will be on the sidelines, making sure no concussed player gets back in the game.

Both Jeff Kutcher, an associate professor of neurology at Michigan’s medical school, and David Kaufman, the chairman of the neurology department at Michigan State, will be working on the field for Saturday’s game.

According to the New York Times, while many Big Ten schools have medical consultants for their athletic teams, only Michigan and Michigan State keep them on the sidelines at all games.

Most Big Ten squads have consulting neurological specialists, but only Michigan and Michigan State have a neurologist on the field for all home and away games.

According to ESPN, the NCAA currently doesn't require neurologists on the sidelines — but it's becoming "standard practice in the NFL."

So what do these doctors do?

Just like everyone else who’s tuned into games, they’re closely watching every play — but instead of keeping their eyes on the goal post, they’re watching for players who might be vulnerable to head injuries. If one player gets their head knocked around, an athletic trainer will run out to the field to check it out. If things don’t look good, either Kaufman or Kutcher — depending on what team the banged-up player is on — will check the player on the the sideline.

They also stop by practices every week to check on recently injured players.

Michigan began bringing Kutcher to the field in 2009, and has been to every home and away game since 2012.

Michigan State had Kaufman on the sidelines for every home game in 2011, and every home and away game since 2012.

Athletic Directors Dave Brandon of Michigan and Mark Hollis of Michigan State both told the Times that neither of them knew that their respective in-state rival both brought neurologists on the field:

“We take the concussion issue really seriously, and we had no idea that Michigan was doing the same thing, so good for them, too,” Hollis said in a telephone interview. “On the field, we don’t like Michigan. Off the field, both of our training and medical staffs want the best for our student-athletes.”

Of course, moving from a physician’s office to a stadium with roaring fans isn’t the easiest transition, as Kutcher told the Times:

“It’s not easy being on the sidelines with everything going on. I’ve learned how to concentrate and tune all of that noise and emotion out — it’s not easy. I am there as a trained neurologist, not a Michigan fan, to evaluate and expertly interpret a brain in distress.”

For more on concussions in college football, check out this video from ESPN:

And for more on concussions and the response in the NFL, see Frontline's documentary League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis.

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom