- Associated Press - Monday, January 28, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The NCAA says it is committed to ensuring the safety of all college athletes and plans to open a national sports science institute to make playing sports safer.

The comments came in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Monday night, the day after President Barack Obama acknowledged that if he had a son, he would have to think about letting him play football. The NCAA did not specifically address Obama’s comments about football, choosing instead to address the broader issue.

“Student-athlete safety is one of our foundational principles,” the statement read. “Throughout its history, the association and its member institutions and conferences have specifically addressed the prevention of student-athlete injuries through a combination of playing rules, equipment requirements, medical best practices and policies.”

But now the governing body is taking a bold new step _ starting the NCAA’s Sports Science Institute, which will be run by Dr. Brian Hainline, a neurologist with extensive sports medicine expertise. He was hired as the NCAA’s first chief medical officer in October so he could lead the center.

“In an effort to identify solutions and opportunities to ensure student-athlete health and safety, the NCAA will continue to lead extensive outreach and collaboration with the medical, scientific and athletics communities,” the NCAA said. “This Institute will function as a national resource to provide safety, health and medical expertise and research for coaches, medical staff, and athletics administrators, including a national task force for collegiate football safety.”

This isn’t the first time college football has come under fire from an American president.

In 1905, with violence on the rise, President Theodore Roosevelt asked football coaches from Harvard, Princeton and Yale to visit the White House. There, he encouraged them to reform the game, and that winter, they created the organization that became the NCAA and legalized the forward pass.

The change worked.

Within two decades, the popularity of college football was so great it led to the formation of a pro league that would be renamed the National Football League in 1922.

Now, Obama is weighing in.

“I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence,” Obama told The New Republic.

“In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

College football, however, drew some of Obama’s greatest criticism.

“The NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,” Obama said. “You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about.”

The recent emphasis has been on concussion awareness.

Some schools, such as Indiana and Virginia Tech, have used sensors inside players’ helmets to measure the impact of hits to a player’s head. Both the NFL and the NCAA have instituted stricter policies about allowing players to return from concussions, and both the NFL and NCAA have been named in concussion-related lawsuits.

The movement has even trickled down to youth football.

USA Football, an organization backed by the NFL, has introduced the Heads Up program _ an online educational program for parents, youth coaches and commissioners that teaches proper tackling techniques they hope will lead to fewer concussions. In March, USA Football, which is based in Indianapolis, plans to bring more than 20 current and former coaches to Indy to help train a group of “master trainers” that will help more than 100 youth leagues across the nation.

Some players at the Super Bowl said they had no problem letting their sons play football. Count former NFL offensive lineman Tony Boselli among that group. He responded to Obama’s comments on Twitter, by writing: “Interesting, I do have boys and I am thinking long & hard about them getting near politics. No problem them playing football.”