Last month, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment issued a statement that voids its certification of any helmet modified by an external padding system.
Consequently, concerned coaches, players and parents were left with nothing for now but the helmet itself when looking to prevent head injuries. So, is there one or are there several models better than others?
Before answering that question, though, please keep in mind there has yet to be a single scientific study to validate the efficacy of external padding systems.
On the other hand, there have been several to claim some helmets are significantly better than others at preventing concussion.
In May, Virginia Tech University released its 2013 ratings of adult football helmets — which includes all helmets worn at the high school level. This has been an annual effort on VT’s part since 2011.
The ratings have been based on 120 linear impacts at various locations and speeds to each of 18 different models.
This year, four models (Riddell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus, Xenith X2, and Riddell Revo Speed) received the highest rating of five stars.
Still “recommended” with four stars were eight models (SG Adult, Schutt ION 4D, Rawlings Impulse, Xenith X1, Riddell Revolution, Rawlings Quantum, Schutt Vengeance, and Riddell Revolution IQ).
Three stars or “good” ratings went to the Schutt Air XP, Schutt DNA Pro+ and Schutt Air XP Ultralite.
The Schutt Air Advantage received two stars or an “adequate” rating and the Riddell VSR — no longer manufactured but still in use — received a one star or marginal rating.
“Not recommended” was the Adams A2000 Pro Elite.
The most expensive of the bunch, at $398, is the SG Adult. Brand new, designed by motor sports safety expert Bill Simpson and manufactured in Indiana, it received only four stars. Multiple other four- and five-star helmets are $100 to $200 less expensive.
So which model transmits the least bang to the head for the best buck?
If a just–released study done at the University of Wisconsin, is to be believed, ANY of the Riddells, Schutts, and Xeniths. Released last month at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s annual meeting in Chicago, the study looked at 1,332 high school football players at 36 schools in Wisconsin in 2012. Not quite 10 percent, 115, suffered concussions.
It didn’t matter what the brand, model or age of the helmet was. The likelihood of concussion was the same across the board. A similar study, with a much larger sample group and released last year by Temple University, found the same.
So why the discrepancy with what has been found at Virginia Tech?
Their research was done in a laboratory using straight-line forces only. The work done at Wisconsin and Temple focused on real-life subjects who experience hits that involve rotational as well as straight-line forces.
Particularly telling was Virginia Tech’s acknowledgement in May that this year’s ratings would be the last to rely on linear forces alone. Hereafter, the VT researchers will look at rotation, too.
For now then, athletic administrators and coaches facing tight budgets are best guided by the real-life results out of Temple and Wisconsin.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.