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Inside NOCSAE, Evolution of Equipment Standards

February 20, 2014    9469 Views

Matt DaSilva | @mdasilva15

Inside NOCSAE

Mike Cohea

Related Story: What's in a Ball?

Look on the back of your lacrosse helmet or at lettering etched onto any lacrosse ball. Does it say "Meets NOCSAE Standards?" If not, you or your child could be at risk of injury.

NOCSAE stands for National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. A non-profit organization, it was formed in 1969 in response to fatalities due to head and neck injuries in football. NOCSAE commissioned the research that led to the development of a football helmet standard.

NOCSAE is comprised of a board of directors representing consumers, equipment manufacturers and re-conditioners, athletic trainers, coaches, equipment managers and academic and sports medicine associations. Its rigorous performance and test standards have influenced multiple sports, including lacrosse.

"The lacrosse helmet standard we have was one of the first standards we developed after the development of the football standard," said Mike Oliver, NOCSAE's executive director. "It goes back to the mid- to late-70s."

Since then, NOCSAE also has developed standards for lacrosse facemasks and balls. Only recently, at the urging of US Lacrosse, have the NCAA and NFHS stepped up efforts to enforce the NOCSAE ball standard.

"One of the most common misconceptions is that we test," Oliver said. "The certification historically has always been made by the manufacturer. It's a self-certification process. We specify in our standards a very high level of statistical compliance. You have to test it to a six-sigma level of quality. They have to do it pursuant to a licensing agreement with us. They have to share their data any time we ask for it. They have to participate in testing equipment calibration and validation. We have to stay on top of all the pieces of equipment that are certified, as well as what scientific literature shows. It's a broad base of responsibilities."

Women's eyewear, mandated by US Lacrosse and the NCAA starting in 2004, is certified through the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) — a much larger volunteer-based organization that covers numerous industries, not just sports equipment. US Lacrosse's ongoing investment in developing a women's headgear standard also centers on ASTM. A draft standard currently is under review.

That's not to say NOCSAE has not considered women's lacrosse headgear in its standards development process. NOCSAE typically funds $500,000 to $2 million in original scientific research annually. In 2012, that included partnering with US Lacrosse in a crash test dummy study on stick-to-head impact in women's lacrosse performed by Sports Science and Safety Committee member Dr. Trey Crisco, director of the bioengineering laboratory at Brown University.

"As a standard-setting body, we rely upon the national governing bodies to come to us and say, 'We have this injury risk that might be able to be addressed with an equipment standard,'" Oliver said. "US Lacrosse is as active as any other organization we deal with and probably more active than most."

Oliver said NOCSAE's position on women's lacrosse headgear is that any standard would require a hard shell and 8-10 inches of total padding, which US Lacrosse believes would compromise the game's integrity with more physically aggressive play.

Instead, NOCSAE has focused on its latest lacrosse-related draft standard: a low-compression ball.

"We've done some preliminary testing, checking in the field to see how it performs and how it's accepted by men and women, and so far what we've learned is it's pretty well accepted," Oliver said.

NOCSAE also has funded research out of interest in a chest protector standard that would minimize the risk of commotio cordis, the rare but often catastrophic disruption of heart rhythm that occurs as a result of a blow to the chest, most commonly in baseball, hockey and lacrosse. NOCSAE recently purchased four human chest surrogates designed to research the mechanisms of impact and test various protective devices.

"It's going to have to be sport specific," Oliver said, "but we're fairly confident it's going to be there sooner than later."

Look for the Seal

As of Jan. 1, 2014, all lacrosse balls used for any level of play must meet NOCSAE standards and include the words "Meets NOCSAE Standard."

All three governing bodies for lacrosse in the United States — US Lacrosse, the NCAA and the NFHS — have agreed to mandate that only balls marked as "Meets NOCSAE Standard" will be allowed for use in games.

Manufacturers now are producing these balls, but delivery to retailers may be slow. US Lacrosse encourages leagues, teams and programs to order balls now. Delaying the ordering of balls until spring could cause availability issues if quantities are limited.

Rulebooks have been adjusted to include this new ball requirement. For more details, visit uslacrosse.org/2014BallStandard.

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