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NCAA medical disqualifications are often complicated

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The Gabe Horan situation isn’t unique

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

When Syracuse Orange tight end Gabe Horan was announced as medically disqualified due to concussions, the initial reaction was that his concussion history must have been worse than anyone knew.

That reaction might be a little different after today’s story from Nate Mink on Syracuse.com. It seems as though Horan and his family felt that his recovery went well enough that a December meeting with Syracuse medical staff would not be the time when his Orange career would be declared to be over.

“We didn’t even know that was what the subject was going to be,” Horan’s mother Angela said. “I feel blindsided, but it is what it is.”

After receiving the news, Horan and his family sought a second independent opinion which still wasn’t enough to change Syracuse’s decision. This is when the situations get very difficult as we’ve seen previously with players like AJ Long and Steven Clark. Privacy concerns keep Syracuse from going into detail of the student’s situation so it’s hard to present both sides. I feel for the athletes in these situations because it’s devastating to learn that your career is over especially when you feel fine.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

As I returned for my fifth year on the SU cross-country team I was told during my physical that the doctor detected a heart murmur and wouldn’t clear me that day. I was in the best physical shape of my life and about to embark on my final year and the news hit hard. My situation was different in that a few days later I underwent a more in-depth evaluation and was cleared to participate, but the possibility of having your career ended prematurely is one you don’t want to experience.

Let me be clear that I don’t feel like the Horans are blaming Syracuse for the decision here, but I think the process could be handled a little differently — and not just at SU. It would be helpful to know that these decisions are not made by one individual especially when one side reveals that other opinions provide a different diagnosis. It would be helpful if the NCAA and its member schools established a policy where any student must be cleared by a panel of indpendent specialists before they can be cleared to compete at a new school.

In addition to increased liability for Syracuse, they should be the ones looking out for the long-term interests of the students. That isn’t for debate despite our desire as fans to see winning programs. Injuries can’t be controlled but we also can’t have situations where athletes are unnecessarily exposed to additional risks. In the end you want students to feel they were given the correct amount of consideration in these cases and that all schools are doing what is in the best interests of the students participating for them.