College football injuries can take a player out for a few games or for the rest of the season. Keep up with the latest NCAA football injuries, learn more about common injuries in college football, and how long injuries can affect not only players but also betting odds here.
With the collisions and overall wear and tear on the body, it should come as no surprise that college football is one of the most injury-prone sports. Coaches and players speak of the “next man up” mentality, preparing their backups with the knowledge that injuries are inevitable in college football games. However, injuries may have even more impact in college football than they do at the NFL level.
Incidence of injury may not be significantly different between the two levels, but college football’s shortened time frame—teams play 12 regular season games, compared to 17 in the NFL —means that the time college football players miss due to injury is more significant on college football teams.
College football careers are also shorter, with players only eligible for participation in football for four full seasons.
We will discuss some of the most common football-related injuries in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, look at how teams report injuries in football at the college level and how weekly injury exposures from scrimmages in the preseason through the last bowl game can impact bettors trying to predict outcomes in college football.
If you can move it, you can hurt it playing football. And if it doesn’t move, it might just start moving if you play football long enough. Players say that the football injury rate is 100 percent. Everyone hurts something at some point.
A current study in the field of sports injuries shows that what you might think is common sense is true: The bigger and faster players are, the more likely they are to get hurt. As a result, injury rates are higher in college than they are in high school because the players doing the hitting are larger and moving faster, meaning that collisions happen with greater force. The sudden starts and stops also put more pressure on joints as bodies get larger.
College players suffer injuries at a rate of 9.31 per 1,000 exposures, or one every 107 exposures (exposure is a practice or competition). Between spring practice, preseason camp, 12 game weeks during the regular season, and another two or three games possible in the CFP, players can have well over 120 exposures a season, meaning they are very likely to suffer some type of injury.
Here’s a look at some of the most common injury types in college football.
The whole point of football is to try to go in one direction, while the other team tries to stop you from going that way. As a result, the knees are going to bear a great deal of stress. And a knee issue is the most common of all injuries in football. Between 15 and 16 percent of all college football injuries are to the knee.
Common injuries to the knee include sprains and strains to the ligaments. A knee sprain is the second most common injury in all of football and the most common lower leg injury. At the NFL Pre-Draft Combine, where the most promising college players are evaluated by NFL teams, 54 percent of all college athletes participating were found to have suffered some type of knee injury.
More serious injuries to the knee include torn ligaments, with the ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament). The MCL suffers some type of damage in 29 percent of all knee injuries in football, and the players on the offensive and defensive line account for more than 60 percent of all MCL injuries. Sprains and strains to the ligaments can keep players out an average of 14 days, while torn ligaments require reconstruction surgery and can be season-ending.
The ankle is the third most commonly injured body part in college football and ankle sprains are the third most common injury reported. Ankles account for 12 to 13 percent of all injuries in common football. Again, looking at players at the NFL Pre-Draft Combine, 72 percent of all players in attendance had a history of foot and ankle injuries.
Every kicker and punter had suffered foot or ankle injuries, as had every special teams player. Running backs and receivers (83 percent), and offensive linemen (80 percent) were next most common to have a history of foot or ankle issues.
The good news is that foot and ankle injuries are rarely severe or season-ending. Only 13 percent of players who hurt their ankle or foot required surgery, and the most common injury to the area—the sprained ankle—only needs surgery 2.6 percent of the time.
Following the sprain, the next most common foot injury is dislocation to the bones in the foot or “turf toe”. A fibular fracture (broken ankle) was the third most common. Quarterbacks are most likely to break their ankle, with 16 percent of them having had one at some point in their college career.
Concussions have gotten a great deal of attention in recent years as studies have shown that they present a much greater danger to football players than was originally thought. As a result, there have been several changes to playing rules, equipment and treatment to try to minimize the injury risk and severity of injury to college football athletes.
Concussion rates for college players are higher than at the high school level, again, as larger, faster players produce collisions with greater impact. About 7.5 percent of all college football injuries are concussions, making that one injury the fourth most common category of injury, behind all sprains, all strains and all contusions.
The risk of concussion is greatest in practice. Studies have found that while the preseason accounts for just 20 percent of the time players spend on the field in college, it accounts for 50 percent of concussions. And, including spring practice and practices during the season, about three-quarters of all concussions occur outside of actual games.
Concussion risk is twofold. There is the danger, thankfully relatively low, of a catastrophic head injury, where one blow to the head can be fatal or cause severe damage. There’s also the accumulation of blows to the head, which can cause long-term damage over the years. Each concussion builds on the damage suffered in previous ones, and players who have suffered one concussion are more likely to suffer another one.
The timetable for return from a concussion depends on the severity and how quickly a player can pass through the concussion protocol—a series of tests and evaluations by medical professionals to ensure that the player has recovered before he retakes the field. It usually takes at least 7-10 days to stop exhibiting symptoms and stand a chance to return from a concussion, so players are likely to miss at least one game, and often more.
Behind only the knee, the shoulder is the second most injured body part in college football. About 13 percent of all football injuries were to the shoulder, and, in a study of NFL Pre-Draft Combine players, nearly half—49.7 percent—had suffered a shoulder injury at some point through the end of their college career, and 34 percent of those shoulder injuries required surgery.
There are a large number of moving parts in the shoulder, and that means a large number of different types of injuries. Quarterbacks, who have to go through a full range of motion while throwing the ball—and can get hit and tackled at any point in that process—are in the most likely position to suffer a shoulder injury.
About 60 percent of the time, a shoulder injury to a quarterback comes from getting hit by another player. Another 28 percent of the time, the upper-body injury comes from contact with the ground. The good news is that only 12 percent of quarterback shoulder injuries require surgical intervention.
The most common injury to the shoulder is a sprain, followed by shoulder contusions. Next up is a fractured clavicle, followed by shoulder instability. This basically means that the arm bone won’t stay in the shoulder socket, leading to persistent dislocations. Fractures and instability are the two most likely to lead to surgery and/or a long time recovering. The average time missed from this injury is 10 days, with most players returning within three weeks.
Some other shoulder injuries that can be seen are torn labrums, which are sometimes called SLAP tears, and rotator cuff injuries. These types of tear injuries generally take at least four to six weeks to heal and another four to six weeks to strengthen back-to-game shape.
There are plenty of other ways to get injured in college football, with some of them resulting in nagging problems or missed time in a game. Others may require surgery (which will put a player out of commission for an extended period of time) or be season-ending which takes a toll on a player’s futures bets or even be career-threatening.
Neck injuries, spinal cord injuries and head injuries other than a concussion are some of the most serious injuries in football. They can result in temporary or, in the worst cases, permanent paralysis. The most common and least serious injury in this category is a stinger. This is an injury to the nerves in the neck and shoulder area. It usually comes when a player is trying to make a tackle and the force of the hit sends his shoulder in one direction and his head in another. The nerve bundle running from the neck through the shoulder to the arm suffers trauma and the player will experience a temporary “dead arm”, where he has tingling and burning sensations down the length of his arm, severe neck pain and weakness or an inability to move his arm. The symptoms are temporary, and often, the player can return to the game.
At the other end of the spectrum is a cervical spine, or C Spine, injury. 10 to 15 percent of players suffer a c-spine injury at some point in their career, and more than half of all catastrophic injuries in sports involve a cervical spine injury.
A serious non-concussion head injury is a subdural hematoma. They are more common in combat sports like boxing or martial arts but also occur in football. It refers to bleeding on the brain and is responsible for 90 percent of all catastrophic brain injuries. The good news, relatively speaking, is that this is one of the few injuries that becomes less common as players move to higher levels of football. College players are one-third as likely as high school players to suffer one, in large part because proper tackling techniques help to protect the head from taking the type of blows that will lead to this injury.
One of the most common non-joint-related injuries is a hamstring injury. The hamstring is the group of tendons that attach your thigh muscle to the bone. They run along the back of your leg, along with three large leg muscles which are also sometimes referred to as a hamstring. It is possible to pull those muscles or tear the muscle or tendons. About 4.7 percent of all college football injuries are torn hamstrings, making it the fifth most likely category of injury.
The force of the collisions between players, and between player and ground, can also lead to broken bones and other Musculoskeletal injuries.
One other complicating factor in college football is the gamesmanship of coaches. Unlike the NFL, where there are strict rules about what types of injuries and information need to be revealed on the weekly injury report, there is no requirement on reporting injuries publicly in the NCAA. Often, the first clue that a player is injured is that he isn’t dressed for that week’s game. Some coaches only announce injuries if they are season-ending. Others are intentionally vague, referring to lower-body injuries and extremity injuries rather than giving any specifics. Or players will be listed with unspecified injuries. This is different from an unknown injury. The player may be diagnosed and in the process of recovery, but the coach wants to keep future opponents guessing on whether the player will be able to participate in the game, and what may be bothering him. And, of course, if the coach won’t even specify what is wrong with a player, the timetable for return is also going to be extremely vague.
As we said earlier, every player gets injured eventually, but some positions are more prone to injury than others. While ball carriers only get the ball—and thus get tackled—a small percentage of the plays that they’re on the field, and defensive players only make tackles a dozen times on a good day, some positions have full contact on every snap of the ball.
The offensive linemen and defensive linemen face each other on every play, separated by mere inches. And, as soon as the ball is snapped, they collide. The defensive linemen are trying to get past the offensive line and sack the quarterback or tackle whoever he handed off the ball to. The offensive line is trying to block, to keep the defensive line at bay, or to clear them out of the way to make a running lane for a running back.
The linemen on each side are also traditionally the largest players on the field, often topping 300 pounds. And they play close together, so, as they’re pushing against another 300-pounder, there’s a very good chance that another pair of battling linemen may get knocked to the ground and crash into their legs.
As a result, offensive and defensive linemen are most likely to get a wide range of injuries, from knee injuries (often from getting “rolled up on” by other players) to concussions. About 16 percent of all football injuries result from blocking, which is what linemen are known for.
Quarterbacks are generally much smaller than the players trying to tackle them, and they are a natural target, so they take more than their share of hits. They also suffer a large number of injuries, although, thanks to rules that protect the quarterbacks, many of them are not as severe. Concussion rates are higher at quarterback than most other positions (except for linemen).
Players that do a great deal of running and cutting—like receivers and defensive backs—are more likely to suffer knee problems as well as torn hamstrings. They also are more likely to suffer a non-contact injury. They’ll plant and change direction while running at full speed and often injure a joint just in the process of cutting in another direction.
Defensive backs are the most injured position, with 19 percent of college injuries hitting that position. This is likely due in large part to the fact that players often don’t want to admit that they’re injured, out of fear of losing their spot. But at a position that requires running full speed to defend a wide receiver, it’s tougher to hide a sprain or injured muscle. Close behind are defensive linemen (18 percent) and offensive linemen (15 percent). Although, the percentage of unreported injuries is likely much higher.
Injuries have a huge impact on betting odds as not even computer-generated picks can take that into account. Teams that are without a key player will have a much lower probability of winning. And, depending on what positions are most hit by injury, it could affect other types of bets. For instance, if a team facing a star quarterback has several defensive backs nursing injuries, the game will likely have a higher point total over/under cutoff than would normally be expected. On the other hand, if a quarterback, or his offensive linemen, are hobbled, the point total is going to be lower than normal.
Additionally, player props are often affected by player injuries if the player prop bets are placed on a player that suffers an injury during the game.
That all makes it difficult to handicap games when looking at the ATS standings. You’ll need the latest injury information, to understand why the odds are set the way they are. For instance, you may look at Alabama’s game and think that the points total over/under is extremely low. Before jumping on the over with both feet, it’s worth making sure that Alabama or its opponent hasn’t had injuries to key offensive players that could keep the score low.
On the other hand, if you get breaking injury news, you may be able to find an advantage while the markets are still reacting to the new development. Further complicating the matter is the fact that college football teams may not be forthcoming on the injury front, so often, news of an injury doesn’t break until the players take the field for pregame warmups. So it is a good idea to monitor the social media accounts of teams and their beat writers to get last-minute injury news.
To make it easier for you, all you need to do is check out OddsTrader’s injuries report. As we said earlier, the National Collegiate Athletic Association doesn’t require teams to give detailed injury information or even accurate or complete injury information. If news about an injury gets out (usually because the player was hurt during a game or seen wearing a protective boot or something during the week), the weekly injury update and timetable for return will be vague. The vast majority of college players are termed “day-to-day” or “a game-time decision”. And more and more teams close practice to the media, making it tougher to know who can go through drills and who isn’t participating.
Most college coaches hold a weekly press conference on Monday or Tuesday of game week. Beat writers will ask for injury updates at that time and get whatever answer is forthcoming, for better or worse. Some teams will release an injury report after practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but it’s no guarantee that teams will do that or that it will be complete.
The worst college football injuries are the ones that can impact a player’s ability to lead a normal life. Catastrophic head injuries, neck and spine injuries and severe concussions are the most likely to have a long-term effect on a player. Some may be life-threatening at worst or at least career-threatening. They also can end a season or lead to a long recovery period.
Injuries requiring surgery, such as torn knee ligaments or severe shoulder injuries, will also have long recovery times and could endanger a player’s season.
There have been some devastating spinal injuries in college football that, rightfully, capture the public’s attention and sympathy. Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered an injury on a tackle on a kickoff and shattered two vertebrae. He had trouble breathing on the field and was initially given a five percent chance of walking again. Similarly, Ole Miss defensive player Chuckie Mullins suffered a traumatic spinal injury making a tackle and had to be airlifted to the hospital. He was able to be released from the hospital and return to class within a year but died at a young age due to a pulmonary embolism.
Injury rates in college football are about 9.21 per 1,000 practices or games, which translates to one every 107 times a player suits up to play or practice football. The average football team has more than 120 practices or games a season, so this means every player expects at least one injury. According to one study, 45 percent of all players suffer an injury in a given season.
Fake injuries happen and is more common than you might think. There are several reasons that a player might fake injuries. They may want to get out of practice or avoid a matchup where they don’t think they’ll fare very well. More common, however, is to fake an injury to try to get an advantage during a game. If a player gets hit late or out of bounds, they may do a little acting to make the hit look worse than it was, to get the referee to penalize the opposing player. If a player is hurt, the game also has to be stopped so medical staff can tend to the injured player on the field. So, when offenses are playing at a high tempo (running one play after another quickly with no huddle), defensive players will often stay down on the field to give their teammates a bit of a rest while the medical staff checks them out. Or, if time is running out and the team behind wants to stop the clock, some fake injuries would be beneficial.
Most college scholarships are just one-year commitments and need to be renewed each year. So, technically, if a player is injured and cannot play for the team anymore, a coach could choose not to renew the scholarship. However, it’s not common, because it would be tough to recruit high school players to join their team if the coach has a reputation for cutting players loose after they get hurt. If a player suffers a career-ending injury, often a coach will offer to make them an undergraduate assistant coach for the rest of their college career and give them a scholarship for that position, rather than continuing to use an athletic scholarship. Unless a player gets injured off the field doing something far outside the bounds of common sense (like getting in a bar fight), it’s uncommon to see them lose their scholarship due to injury.