A Policy Impact Analysis of the Mandatory NCAA Sickle Cell Trait Screening Program

Following a legal settlement with the family of a Rice University football player, who collapsed during practice and later died from acute exertional rhabdomyolysis attributed to sickle cell trait, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) implemented universal SCT screening of all Division I student-athletes.

Using NCAA reports from the 2007-2008 season, population-based sickle cell trait (SCT) prevalence estimates, and published research on exercise-related sudden death attributable to SCT, this study estimated the impact of a mandatory screening policy on both the identification of SCT and prevention of sudden death.

Key Findings:

  • Over 2,000 NCAA Division I athletes with SCT will be identified through this screening process.
  • Seven NCAA Division I athletes would die suddenly as a complication of SCT over a 10-year period without intervention.
  • Assuming the intervention’s 100 percent effectiveness, to prevent one death, 144,181 athletes must be screened.
  • The cost of sickle cell solubility testing only would range from $1,441,810 to $2,883,620 for each death prevented.

This study provides data about the impact of a policy driven by litigation rather than evidence, according to the researchers. Further information about the whole intervention, not just the screening, is needed for this policy to be successful.