Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri/AP Images

Tonight, millions will tune in to watch two very good college football teams play again for the national championship. There will be Ben “I Love Butts” Boulware, no Lane Kiffin, and lots of knee braces on uninjured fat guys.

The New York Times published a genuine interesting report today taking a look at the efficacy of knee braces, specifically the concept of prophylactic bracing, which has developed into one of college football’s most uniformly followed trends. The majority of offensive linemen in college football now wear these clunky knee pieces, even if they’ve never suffered a severe knee injury, with some big-time programs like Michigan requiring all linemen to sport the braces.

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The reasoning behind the implementation of prophylactic bracing is that while the braces may be crusty and uncomfortable for the portly fellows in the trenches, their presence will work toward preventing future potential injury, not just provide support for existing issues. When you say it out loud, it even sounds right: wearing a brace, like taping your uninjured ankles, will help prevent them from twisting and snapping in ungodly directions.

The Times spoke with the brace manufacturers and medical experts, as well as Clemson’s director of sports medicine, about the proven usefulness of the braces. (Every player they quote decried the braces for their lack of comfort, mobility, and smell.) While the knee brace execs called upon 15-year old studies, the Times cited a 2008 study review spearheaded by a UNC professor that found methodology issues in prior studies linking prophylactic bracing and actual injury prevention; other studies reviewed in the project “demonstrated more injuries per player in the group that wore prophylactic knee braces.”

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Clemson, one of the top two teams in the nation, employs Danny Poole, a Western Carolina grad who’s been with Clemson’s director of sports medicine for the past 17 years. As of 2013, his salary was nearing $100,000; we’re not talking strength coach money or anything, but the man still plays a large role in fortifying the team rule that all players must wear tape or a brace on their ankles, and has supported prophylactic bracing for close to 15 years. So, when presented with the data, the Clemson Director of Sports Medicine offered a helpful, scientific reply:

“I’m not a big, huge studies guy,” Poole said. “I like to hear from the players. And the first time you hear, ‘That brace saved me today,’ you know it’s doing something.”

Fair enough. But the really important question is whether prophylactic knee braces help Clemson players with their ball and butt grabbing.

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[New York Times]