Reasonable risk management

I don’t write about college sports much and regular readers of my blog may not have caught that today is homecoming at Penn State University. The Nittany Lions host the Michigan State Spartans in their 99th homecoming. The game will be nationally broadcast and begins at 3:30 Eastern time. Fans are supposed to check their tickets or the school’s web site to see whether fans in their section of the stadium are wearing blue or white for the game. Game day parking is exhausted. Fans who do not have a parking permit have not been able to purchase parking permits for over a week.

Football is a big deal at Penn State. Their No. 8 ranked team draws a full stadium for every game. Today, the parking lot, for those who have parking permits, opens at 8 am. Official tailgate parties start at 10 am. The stadium opens at 1:30 and concessions will be discounted for the first 45 minutes that the stadium is open.

It is a big enough deal that school officials will be on the lookout for counterfeit tickets. There are some out there.More than 300 counterfeit tickets were confiscated before the Nittany Lions’ last home game against Ohio State on September 29.

There are risks associated with a college football program. There are a variety of statistics, but it is commonly reported that the injury rate for college football players is 9.7 per 1000 athlete exposures. Concussions make up 7.4 percent of all injuries in college football players. It is a rough sport and injuries occur. It is a risk that, so far, colleges, are willing to accept. After all revenues from college football programs are incredibly high and fund a lot of college programs.

I mention this because last April Penn State University completed a risk management review of its 79 student clubs. Among the results of that study was the decision that there would be no more outings for the Penn State Outing Club. That isn’t quite the case this fall as the club, one of the oldest clubs at Penn State, had a movie night last week and has a couple of hikes scheduled for the weekend. They are restructuring their plans after the risk analysis found that the university would no longer allow the 98-year-old club to organize student led outdoor trips. Along with the caving club and the diving club, the club was deemed to have “an unacceptable level of risk in their current operation model.”

The same review found that the university’s martial arts and rifle clubs would be allowed to continue.

The risk review followed a pattern that has been observed across North America in recent years. A Canadian high school’s board approved a year-end, capstone paddling trip for students with the following restrictions: There was to be no swimming allowed, even if everyone wears a PFD. Youth were not allowed to handle knives, including pocket knives and pen knives. Students could not tend campfires. I’m trying to remember my camp experiences. Take away swimming, whittling, and helping cook supper, and there isn’t a lot to do. An outdoor adventure isn’t supposed to be boring.

I recently read an article about another student-initiated school paddling trip, scheduled for calm waters in canoes, that was cancelled because it was deemed to be an unacceptable risk.

I understand that there are risks involved with outdoor activities. Part of the adventure is always managing risk. When I have led outdoor adventures with youth, considerable effort has been extended to speak of the risks and planning to avoid injury. The waterspouts camp that I led in Idaho had a component where every participant was certified in CPR. We had wading and swimming experiences designed to teach students to trust their PFDs. We trained for canoe capsize and recovery. We inventoried first aid kits and talked about roles and responsibilities should an injury occur. I recruited RNs and EMTs to be with each group that went on an outing.

I am not saying that there are no risks involved in going canoeing with kids. A 2002 study that focused on whitewater rafting ranged from approximately 2.2 to 8.7 fatalities per million participant days. Injuries and fatalities occur. But based on actual rates of occurrences, a school that deems paddling to be too risky might want to look at any school activity that involves riding in motor vehicles, where the fatality rate is 152 per million.

The solution to risk is not avoiding it completely. I understand that school boards and university administrators are risk adverse and terrified of law suits. But learning to manage and decrease risk is an important life skill that ought to be taught in university programs.

There is another factor, which I don’t think has been the subject of any studies of university and high school programs. That is simple joy. It is hard tor me to describe the joy that I have experienced by taking a canoe or kayak to the lake and watching the wildlife. I can have the mood of an entire week lifted by a sunrise paddle on calm waters. I am well aware that there are risks associated with paddling. The water around here is cold. A self-rescue plan needs to take into consideration that one has at the most 6 to 10 minutes of effective muscle function if one falls into the water unprotected. Dry suits, gloves and other gear can extend survivability quite a bit. I’ve never capsized a boat while paddling alone on very cold waters, but I have a self-rescue plan every time I go out, just in case it were to happen.

On the other hand, I’ve come up from the water during practice rolling exercises or canoe capsize recovery games with a big grin on my face. I’ve seen the sense of accomplishment when a par of teens succeed in assisting another pair in recovering from a capsize drill on a summer day in a swimmable lake. I’ve witnessed the confidence that comes from acquiring outdoor survival skills.

I hope that our schools don’t become so frightened fo law suits that they take all of the fun out of outdoor activities. That, in my opinion, would be an unbearable tragedy for future generations.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!