By Greg Johnson
The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Committee is recommending additional padding for hard or unyielding surfaces in areas involving pole vault competitions effective with the 2011-12 academic year.
The committee, which met last Tuesday through Friday in Indianapolis, is in a non-rules change year, but it believes these measures need to be taken immediately because they directly affect student-athlete safety.
All rules changes must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which next meets via conference call July 13.
“We discussed it to see what steps we could take to make this event safer,” said committee chair Kim Duyst, associate athletics director at Cal State Stanislaus. “We are trying to be preventative in the name of student-athlete health and safety.”
The committee also reviewed a proposal that would require all pole vault competitors to wear helmets (they currently are optional). After discussion, committee members decided to table the issue until more data on pole vault injuries are obtained.
Duyst cited a committee of divisional representatives that will meet with experts in the field and discuss the matter further with coaches associations. “We will have ongoing discussions regarding helmets,” Duyst said.
After the death last year of Robert Zhonglie Yin, a Grinnell pole vault student-athlete, the NCAA hosted a meeting this spring that included representatives from the National Federation of State High School Associations, USA Track and Field and expert coaches in the sport.
Similar meetings took place after Kevin Dare, a Penn State track and field student-athlete, died in an accident at the 2002 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships.
In 2002, the pit for pole vault was expanded by a new American Society for Testing Materials standard, reducing, but not eliminating injury. Since then, the number of injuries related to missing the pit both off the back and on the sides of the landing pad have declined.
However, research from the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research shows that pole vaulters remain at serious risk if they flip out of the pit and strike an unyielding surface or slide down the pole into the plant box. The track and field committee suggested the changes in the hope of mitigating those risks.