The aftermath of the case against UCF

July, 5, 2011
7/05/11
2:00
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Last week, a jury ruled against the UCF Athletic Association in a wrongful death lawsuit, awarding the family of Ereck Plancher $10 million. Plancher collapsed and died during an offseason workout in March 2008, and an autopsy later showed he died from complications of sickle-cell trait. The Plancher family sued the UCFAA, believing not enough was done to protect their son.

[+] EnlargeEreck and Gisele Plancher
AP Photo/George Skene, PoolEnock, left, and Gisele Plancher listen as UCF coach George O'Leary testifies on June 23 about the details surrounding the 2008 death of their son, Ereck, who collapsed and died at a spring practice.
After a 14-day trial, the jury found UCFAA was negligent in his death. UCF plans to appeal the decision.

I wrote in extensive detail about this case and its potential ramifications last week. But I have continued to get questions on what I think could be fallout now that a jury has handed down its decision. In an interview with The Orlando Sentinel, Gisele Plancher said she hoped the lawsuit would help save others.

"That was a terrible thing, a mother losing a child," she said. "I don't want that to happen to anyone. I want Ereck to keep helping others. I want him to save others."

Will that happen? At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, I do not believe a $10 million judgement in this case is going to do much to deter the rigorousness of college football workouts. Coaches are going to keep pushing their players to the limits. But hopefully, it will spur more education and awareness on the part of trainers, coaches and players about the risks associated with sickle-cell trait and overexertion. The National Athletic Trainers' Association has emphasized education.

I want to see more education for players themselves if they test positive for something that could potentially do them serious harm. In the case of sickle-cell trait, players should be made aware of what it is, how it can be triggered and signs to watch for should they begin to feel an episode beginning. There are stories of players who have been saved when a sickling episode began, but obviously not every tragedy has been averted.

Other questions I have gotten from readers:

What will happen to George O'Leary? UCF made the decision to retain O'Leary in the wake of Plancher's death. The school believes strongly that it did everything it could to help Plancher, and maintains an undetected heart condition was the cause of his death. UCF has been relatively silent on the case, except to say it plans to appeal. Certainly O'Leary didn't come out of this looking good, but the details that emerged shortly after Plancher died didn't make him look good three years ago. O'Leary was not on trial, even though he took the stand. I don't think his job is in jeopardy.

How will this impact potential membership in the Big East? This obviously is a public relations hit for UCF, no matter what happens with the appeal. But is this going to be the reason why UCF is excluded from potential membership in the Big East? I'd like to think the answer there is no. Yes, the evidence presented showed UCF could have done more to help Plancher. But there is no disputing this is a tragedy that cannot be undone. UCF was held responsible by a jury last week. But this case and the expansion question are two separate matters. The Big East is exploring how possible additions could help boost a new media rights deal. I don't think the judgment makes UCF untouchable from that perspective. This case was exceptional in that it went to trial. But tradegies have happened at schools throughout the country, and the schools have not been impacted in terms of league affiliation.

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