Back in August 2011, I labeled Purdue "ACL U," in the wake of multiple ACL injuries suffered among the football and men’s basketball teams there.
Now that title has moved 112 miles to the northeast. At Notre Dame, the women’s basketball team has been gutted by ACL injuries to four of its members in the last 10 months. They are now down to seven healthy scholarship players.
Despite all that, the Lady Irish had managed a number two national ranking, with their sole loss being an 80-71 decision at top ranked UConn.
That was until five days ago, when Muffet McGraw’s team ran into buzz saw Louisville. The final score of 100-67 was the 11th worst loss in Notre Dame's program history.
There are now only three undefeated NCAA Division I women’s basketball teams remaining, including UConn and Louisville. Those teams will meet on Feb. 12.
Meanwhile, the Irish recovered somewhat to defeat Boston College at home on Sunday, 89-60.
However, the fundamental problem of being shorthanded has no hope of resolution for the remainder of the season.
It all started last March when All-American forward Brianna Turner suffered her injury during the NCAA tournament. Wisely, before this season ever started, the Irish ruled her out and are hoping for a full recovery by the start of the 2018-19 season.
Guard Mychal Johnson was next, injured before practice even started. Number three was forward Mikyala Vaughn, going down during a preseason practice.
Finally, one can hope, graduate student Lil Thompson was afflicted at Wake Forest on Dec. 31. Happy New Year.
Losing Thompson was particularly problematic because the Stanford transfer was McGraw’s last healthy point guard.
At this point, another Final Four run seems unlikely.
McGraw claims she has never seen anything like it. She hasn’t personally but this is nothing new for women’s basketball.
ACL tears discriminate against females, with — depending on the study — basketball players eight times more likely and soccer players six times more likely to be stricken than their male counterparts.
The key, according to a recent Swedish study, is the coach. If the coach of a women’s team commits to starting and staying with an ACL prevention program, then the numbers drop.
In published reports, McGraw claims she had instituted such a program before this season started. You wouldn’t know it, judging by the four ACL tears.
Nonetheless, if more high school and college programs instituted such a program, the consequences for the individual and society as a whole can’t be ignored. The data indicate such programs reduce ACL injuries by one-half to two-thirds.
There are 200,000 ACL tears per year nationwide. At least half of those undergo reconstruction, each of which costs upwards of $25,000. Recovery takes about a year. That financial estimate includes neither the loss of income involved nor the cost of future complications and disability. Approximately 60 percent of those who tear their ACL will develop arthritis even after reconstruction, and a third of those will need the joint surgically replaced.
High school and youth coaches in most states are now required to complete a course regarding the dangers and management of concussion. That’s great. Still, female athletes in particular would be better served if their coaches resolved in 2018 to implement and maintain an ACL injury prevention program.