Photo credit: Craig Chase

In the wake of NOCSAE’s Monday announcement that it had voided the certifications of both the Cascade R and the Warrior Regulator lacrosse helmets, 24 Seven Lax reached out to NOCSAE for clarification on this disturbing news. How could a helmet be in use for a year and a half, in the case of the Cascade R, and just now be found to be non-compliant with NOCSAE standards? How could helmets carry the NOCSAE approved certification logo and now that same certification be deemed void? What prompted the additional tests? We needed an explanation.

The Approval Process
Despite the logo of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) appearing on virtually all lacrosse helmets in the marketplace, the organization itself does not approve the equipment bearing its certification logo. Equipment manufacturers sign a license agreement with NOCSAE that gives them permission to utilize the NOCSAE name and certification logo in exchange for the company’s commitment to follow the standards set forth by NOCSAE, conduct required testing and annually submit samples for testing at accredited labs. Without the resources to monitor the production and certification of every piece of equipment, NOCSAE relies on the integrity of manufacturers and the competency of their accredited labs when helmets are certified as compliant.

Both Cascade and Warrior, in their respective statements in response to NOCSAE’s decision, stand behind the results of their testing conducted through independent NOCSAE accredited labs in which the helmets passed the standards set forth by NOCSAE.

What Happened?
In early October of this year, STX entered the lacrosse helmet market with the introduction of the Stallion helmet line in partnership with Schutt, a long-time manufacturer of football helmets. STX’s marketing of the newly introduced helmet revolved heavily around its NOCSAE testing which was performed in conjunction with that of its competitors’ products. STX’s independent laboratory testing by its chosen NOCSAE accredited labs showed a 100% passing rate for the Schutt Stallion helmets and a 100% failure rate for the Cascade R, a comparisonthat STX proudly used to market their helmet. STX sounded the alarm.


NOCSAE Gets Involved
We reached out to NOCSAE and corresponded with Michael Oliver, the Executive Director and General Counsel, to see what prompted the review of the R and Regulator and he had this to say. “We received copies of certified laboratory test results from STX indicating that these two models failed. We received that information I believe contemporaneously with STX sending that information to most of the governing bodies and I think anyone else who would listen. We do not make a decision about model decertification or compliance based upon that information, but we do recognize that it is information that needs to be investigated and evaluated, and it does rise to the level of causing us to begin our investigation, which we did very quickly.”

According to NOCSAE, if they do receive information that a model which has been certified as compliant with their standards may not in fact comply, a specific protocol for investigating the claim is followed. This protocol involves not only purchasing the suspect models directly from multiple sources, but also contacting the manufacturers and asking them to provide all of their internal production sample testing data and analysis in support of the certification of these models. They are obligated to do this under the license agreement.

Oliver noted that NOCSAE instructed their Technical Director and his laboratory to independently go into the retail market and purchase enough units of these particular models so that a thorough and complete testing could be done. “These models were purchased, and the laboratory at SIRC which is the NOCSAE contracted laboratory began to submit all of these models to certification testing in accordance with our standard.”

What did NOCSAE find in the Manufacturer’s Data?
NOCSAE evaluated the data received from Cascade and Warrior in response to their request and determined the data to be inadequate to support certification of the entire model population. Among the findings, according to NOCSAE, were inadequate sample size, test results that when analyzed under several different statistical programs predicted a large number of failures in the model population, and the testing data completely omitted any high temperature testing reports throughout production life of the models involved.

Michael Oliver explained, “once these conclusions were clear, we notified each company that we were suspending their license agreement and their authority to utilize the NOCSAE name or logos on any equipment they were producing, and to cease distribution of any of the specific models that we were decertifying. We also imposed the requirement that the licensing agreement would not be reinstated until each company passed an independent quality audit directed by the Safety Equipment Institute or SEI.

What about NOCSAE’s Lab Testing?
In order to do justice to the laboratory findings of NOCSAE, the following is a taken verbatim from Mr. Oliver’s latest email.

“What we did learn is that there were two specific areas where the helmet tests showed consistently high test numbers. In some cases those numbers are failing numbers, in other cases they were very close to failing. These locations are the front and the top or crown of the helmet. These high numbers were consistently found in the internal QC sample testing data as well as in all of the outside laboratories that conducted testing.

There was a suggestion by both companies that improper positioning of the helmet on the test headform is the reason there were failing numbers in some of the outside laboratory tests. Although our final decision was not based solely upon the failing testing outside laboratories, but was instead premised almost entirely upon the fact that neither company could support certification of the model based on its own internal test data, we did review and evaluate the improper positioning claim and determined that the positioning during the testing was proper in both the failing laboratory tests as well as in the passing laboratory tests. Cascade wants to demand that the helmet be positioned on the testing headform be tilted as far forward as possible without blocking the eyes of the user, and when tested in that position, they assert that the helmet passes the tests. We agree certainly that the helmet should pass the test in that orientation as we know players do wear lacrosse helmets with that severe forward tilt. However the standard requires that the helmet also pass in any other reasonably foreseeable orientation on the player’s head. We believe it is unreasonable under our standard, and impermissible, for the manufacturer to limit testing only at the extreme forward tilt, particularly if the helmet fails when that tilt is changed by as little as 10 mm.

Helmets tested under our standard are to be placed on the headform following the manufacturer’s fitting instructions that accompany the helmet. And even following those instructions, the test technician is given great discretion with regard to positioning the helmet on the test headform so that the position is reasonable. We believe it is reasonable and necessary under the requirements of our standard for the helmet to pass whether it’s tilted all the way forward, or positioned on the headform so that the player’s eyes are actually looking evenly between the top bar of the faceguard in the bottom of the brim. We also believe the user or consumer has the same expectation that the helmet would pass the standard in any reasonable orientation that is likely to be encountered during the course of a lacrosse game.”

Same Tests, Different Results?
If NOCSAE certification is achieved through an agreed upon standard set of tests, how could the results of STX’s and NOCSAE’s independent laboratory tests be so different from that of Cascade’s and Warrior’s testing performed by NOCSAE accredited labs? The answer is unclear, however there are a few possibilities. NOCSAE assumes original testing reports from Cascade and Warrior as well as reports from STX are correct. According to NOCSAE, it is impossible for them to determine whether the reason for the failures now are specific to a particular batch of helmets, batch of material used for internal padding, or any other problem that would be specific to the structure or configuration of the helmet.

It’s clear however that the fit of the helmet on the headform plays an important role in testing whether that’s fair or not. Cascade contends that the HPI (Head Positioning Index) is critical for both testing and real world player safety. In layman’s terms, HPI translates roughly to tilt. The Cascade R was designed for optimal tilt, which is the safest way to wear the helmet. Tests performed with the dummy headform in the “2nd bar syndrome” position or with less than optimal HPI would predictably fare worse than tests performed with the headform looking out of the top slot in the mask, according to Cascade.

It is also worth noting that even in the test results posted by STX, there is a non-trivial difference in the impact index results from each of the two labs who performed STX’s testing despite the fact that the Schutt Stallion passed and the Cascade R did not. Could these differences be attributed to differences in the batches of helmets as NOCSAE posited or might the difference be attributed to HPI as Cascade suggested? Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that tests from two different labs can produce different results regardless of who commissioned the testing.

What’s Happening Now?
Cascade, for its part, has stopped shipping all its products at the peak of the holiday and team shopping season. Additionally, they are conducting an internal and third-party audit of all of their parts and processes across all helmet models to review quality control, according to Cascade’s Brand Manager, Ryan Demorest. Cascade had already begun including an illustrated fit guide with their helmets to insure players were properly wearing their helmets. Cascade has also set up an online registration page for R owners to be kept up to date on new developments.

Cascade and Warrior are working with NOCSAE to determine what needs to be done to remedy the situation as quickly as possible, but until an agreement is reached, the helmets in question do not meet the NOCSAE standard required by the NCAA, NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) and US Lacrosse. Players may be barred from participating in leagues or tournaments with the Regulator or R until the issue is resolved, and at a minimum should expect to sign an additional release acknowledging that the helmet is no longer NOCSAE certified and you are doing so at your own risk.

What Else?
On social media, some have pointed to the board of directors at NOCSAE and whether STX/Schutt had undue influence over this whole situation. We asked NOCSAE specifically about STX’s influence on this investigation and Mr. Oliver answered. “There was no influence, coercion, or other coordination between NOCSAE and Schutt or STX, and they are subject to the same rules and requirements and obligations as any other NOCSAE licensee, and we show no favoritism or partiality to any licensee.”

Mr. Oliver also noted, “In this case the triggering information was received from STX, but we have no control over when STX or anyone else wants to send out a notice or information. We had no advance knowledge or notice of their intentions, and received the information at the same time everybody else in the country did. I should also let you know that when we evaluated the Warrior and Cascade information provided by STX, we also evaluated the test numbers for the Schutt/STX Stallion helmet that was also listed in the disclosure. Even though there were no numbers that failed, there were several values that were high enough to raise questions as to whether, statistically, that model would pass if enough models were subjected to a statistical analysis. At the same time we requested this information from Cascade and Warrior, we requested the same information from Schutt/STX. We received the Schutt data and their internal statistical analysis and evaluation reviewed, and were satisfied that an adequate number of samples had been tested, and that the analysis of the QC sample selection test data which had been performed by Schutt/STX on that model supported the certification of that helmet.”

At the time of this post, we were unable to reach or had not received a reply from STX or Warrior seeking comment.