University of Kansas

KU Athletics launches a new sports medicine model. Here’s how it will work

Kansas Athletics will change the structure of its sports medicine staff, launching a new model where those roughly 40 employees will be employed by a separate entity.

KU announced Wednesday morning the launching of Kansas Team Health, a collaboration between KU Athletics, The University of Kansas Health System and LMH Health in Lawrence.

“I think in many ways, this is a partnership that will be modeled in the future,” KU athletic director Jeff Long said. “But it is truly based upon our desire to have the best medical care for our student-athletes.”

Long believes the collaboration — the idea of KU chancellor Douglas Girod, who is a surgeon — could benefit KU Athletics in these ways:

For one, it could potentially eliminate a conflict of interest that currently exists with many university programs. Because college athletics medical professionals report to both coaches and athletic directors of that school, there could be the belief that staff members might potentially work in the interest of the school rather than the individual athlete.

Long made clear that he did not see that as a problem at KU. But based off some other events nationally — Maryland football player Jordan McNair recently dying during a conditioning drill is one notable example — KU saw the need to make certain that safeguards were put in place for their athletes.

“We (athletic directors and coaches) don’t have the ability to influence medical decisions. I think that’s the most important thing,” Long said. “Our physicians clearly know — and this model clearly defines for them — they are in charge when it comes to medical issues, and no one else.”

KU’s roughly 40 medical staff members — including strength and conditioning coaches like Andrea Hudy (men’s basketball) and Zac Woodfin (football) — will be employees of KU Health System while fully reporting to medical professionals.

Long also said KU athletes potentially could have access to surgeons and specialists at KU Health System — an organization that already has existing relationships with the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs.

“We’re being able to open up an avenue to our student-athletes for even greater care,” Long said, “and maybe more expertise in certain types of care.”

The new partnership will require some transition. Long said KU Athletics will pay its medical staff through a third party (Kansas Team Health), and that requires some immediate payment to employees to settle leftover vacation and sick days they accrued with KU. There’s also the separate cost of setting each employee with a new benefits package.

Over time, though, Long believes KU Athletics might save money with the partnership. Long reiterated, though, that even if KU did benefit financially at any point, that was not the thrust for this change.

“I want to be clear: The reason behind this is not to save resources for the institution,” Long said. “It’s really to provide the best quality health care we can.”

What makes the partnership especially unique is its inclusion of strength and conditioning coaches. While some other colleges nationally have paired themselves with outside physicians and trainers, this Kansas Team Health model is believed to the first alliance that includes a school’s strength and conditioning coaches.

“We knew we had a special opportunity to be innovative and get ahead of the curve,” Girod said. “As a result, I believe we can tell all current and future student-athletes that they’re getting the best care and training in the country at the University of Kansas.”

So how will the new model work for a KU strength and conditioning coach, like Woodfin? Long said he didn’t envision much changing in the day to day; Woodfin will interact with athletes mostly as he has, while maintaining his relationship with the team’s coaches.

The biggest difference, then, will be the oversight. Woodfin’s training regimens will now be overseen and approved by medical professionals to ensure player safety.

“We have outstanding strength and conditioning coaches who have national reputations. (This change) is not a result of concerns we have for our strength and conditioning staff,” Long said. “But it is out of concerns of we’ve seen happen across the country. We think this model provides the safest environment for our student-athletes to train and prepare for competition.”

Long said hirings and firings of medical personnel will now be a collaborative effort between KU Athletics and the KU Health System.

Bob Page, president and CEO of KU Health System, said the organization was pleased to be part of Wednesday’s announcement.

“Kansas Team Health is putting the student-athlete at the center of the structure we are putting together and future decisions we will make,” Page said. “By coming together with the University of Kansas and LMH Health, we are excited to create a first-of-its-kind model in college sports and student-athlete care.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.