Kevin Ware’s injury is horrible—but men’s basketball is among the safer college sports.

March 31, 2013

(Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

Louisville's Kevin Ware suffered a gruesome leg injury during last night's NCAA game against Duke. Although some similar football injuries sprung to mind, many longtime NCAA watchers quickly dubbed this the worst basketball injury they've ever seen.

"I don't know if in basketball I've ever seen one like that," said CBS's Jim Nantz, a longtime sportscaster who has covered the NCAA for decades.

There's a reason for that: Basketball is among the safest male collegiate sports, with injury rates half those of wrestling and football.

A 2007 study in the Journal of Athletic Training looked at 182,000 injuries incurred across 16 years and 15 NCAA sports. Only one other men's sport, baseball, had fewer injuries per game than basketball. The injury rate for men's wrestling matches is twice that of basketball games in the NCAA.

Injuries in NCAA basketball also tend to be relatively minor. Just over one quarter (26.6 percent) are ankle sprains; 1.4 percent of all injuries are more serious ACL tears.

Another reason we don't see many basketball injuries is that they rarely happen in the post-season. A separate study in the same journal, this one focusing specifically on men's NCAA basketball, found that the rate of injuries for in-season games was 10.9 injuries per 1,000 games. In the post-season, that number fell to 6.3 injuries per 1,000 games.

Injuries in NCAA men's basketball have held relatively constant for years, this study found, trending slightly downward between 1989 and 2004. Injuries tend to happen in the NCAA at half the rate they do in the NBA (more on that in this paper).

Still, researchers did see some reason for worry: An increase in injuries to the head raised some concerns about NCAA play becoming more physical, with more contact between players.

"Direct blows to the head result in concussions, lacerations, fractures, and eye and dental injuries," the researchers wrote. "Usually these injuries are accidental or incidental in nature, but the steady rise (65 percent more game head injuries in the last 3 seasons of data collection, versus the first 3 seasons) in the number of such injuries indicates that more 'accidental' or 'incidental' contact is occurring."

Kenny Klein, an associate athletic director at Louisville, said that Ware's pain is under control and that he probably will have surgery Sunday night.

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