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March 31, 2013

What do Kevin Ware, Marcus Lattimore & Tyrone Prothro have in Common? The NCAA’s Unfair Benefit Policy

by John Phillips

What do Kevin Ware, Marcus Lattimore & Tyrone Prothro have in Common? The NCAA’s Unfair Benefit Policy

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES

By

I just witnessed this…

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and hadn’t even gotten over this yet…

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or this…

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And then saw this…

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And that was all I could take.  Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered this gruesome lower right leg injury against Duke in the Elite Eight of the 2013 NCAA Tournament during a routine play, attempting to contest a three-point attempt from Tyler Thornton of Duke when his leg buckled beneath him.  Some of his teammates fell to the floor and later wept over the apparent severity of the injury.  It reminded me of the injuries to Marcus Lattimore and Tyrone Prothro.

And the fact the person who sold the tickets to the game or the man selling popcorn in the crowd often has far better protection under the law -called workers compensation- than those who “work” on the court, field or track.

I thereafter posted my usual critique of the NCAA’s system only to get this as a response-hater

I then spent the next hour breaking down the benefit system of the NCAA and comparing it to the system that covers most of the workers in this country- workers compensation.  Then WordPress decided to repeatedly fail to save and delete my thoughts.  I will try again, but that was an hour I will miss. I had it all contained- maybe even overkill.

Workers Compensation versus NCAA Benefit System-

The point was- workers all across the country have vastly greater rights and benefits compared to the 18-22 year-olds who give up their bodies, souls, likeness, names and identities for that “free education.”  In 2011, Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois compared the NCAA to the Mafia over how it controls the lives of student athletes.  It is filled with hypocrisy.  I have been asked by an assistant coach, “how do you think all of those kids’ families are able to come stay in a hotel and come to camp?”  Yet, it is the agents who are “pimps.”  And I have had a University chaplain approach me for money to buy influence.  And when it comes to being a student, we need to look no further than Johnny Football being allowed to attend on-line classes as long as he is on campus to “do work” on Saturdays.  Benefits and injury protection are just as laughable.

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer.  “Student athletes” are not workers and their institutions would like to claim these young men and women “assume the risk” of injury for the love of competition and athletic scholarship- for some.  It’s insulting.  If the Coach or Athletic Director are injured, their benefits are far superior.

Most of the “student-athletes” of the athletic teams at those NCAA institutions don’t have a clue about what happens after they’re hurt on the field, court or track.  Since 2005, the NCAA has required universities to certify that athletes have insurance for athletically-related injuries before they can compete. The insurance can come from the school, a parent or an athlete’s personal policy, and must cover up to the $90,000 deductible of the NCAA catastrophic injury insurance program (discussed later).  The burden is on them.  The school’s then sometimes fill that burden with loopholes and decisions by an Athletic Director as to what is covered or not.  Or use strength/conditioning coaches, trainers, team doctors and the like to downplay injury… or not record it at all.

The victims-

A 2009 story in The New York Times profiled several former college athletes who were stuck with big medical bills and being abandoned by their colleges and insurance companies. The report cited a woman rower saddled with $80,000 “because of the way her condition was diagnosed” and a football player who “learned that he still owed $1,800 in unpaid medical bills when he went to buy a car six years after his injury.”

And then there is Kyle Hardrick from Oklahoma.  The team doctors diagnosed him with a torn meniscus in his knee and wrote down on practice logs that he should be held out because he was hurt.  Hardrick’s family contends the University refused provide proper care for Hardick unless the University agreed that he or his family members would be prohibited from enrolling at Oklahoma or any of the universities governed by its board of regents. The proposed settlement would also have prevented the Hardricks from filing a lawsuit against the university.  “My insurance does not cover all of Kyle’s medical bills,” an emotional Valerie Hardrick told the AP, “The University of Oklahoma refused to pay for Kyle’s surgery, his rehab, and his medication. The university actions also allowed Kyle to be released without appropriate medical treatment before consulting his original surgeon.”

Still think its fair?  If Hardrick had been injured on the job, he’d be guaranteed protection against some of these very same things.  And his medical bills would be covered.  And he’d receive an injury settlement based on his injury.  But the NCAA has garnered an exemption because of the definition of “student-athlete,” the full-time job that is NOT a full-time job.  It happens over and over again.

Benefits provided by Member Schools-

The NCAA has required universities to certify that athletes have insurance for athletically-related injuries before they can compete. Division I schools are permitted to purchase additional health insurance policies for their student-athletes, but Division II and Division III are not unless the same benefits are offered to the rest of the student population, according to the NCAA.

Here is a very interesting discussion of how Franklin College discloses their policy- http://www.franklingrizzlies.com/athletic-training/insurance-information/.

The insurance can come from the school, a parent or an athlete’s personal policy, and must cover up to the deductible of the NCAA catastrophic injury insurance program.  It is therefore discretionary and differs wildly from school to school.  Further, member institutions have scholarship limits, potential malpractice claims and a host of other issues which weigh into how they address this minimum requirement.  Most parents cannot afford a policy, so they often provide some health insurance and then stringently control how they handle claims on it versus regulating treatment with team doctors and trainers.

Benefits provided by the NCAA-

Group Basic Medical Program

The NCAA describes it as:

A program that covers intercollegiate sports-related injuries and institution below the catastrophic insurance deductible of $90,000 per injury. The program is intended to provide member institution the tools and resources necessary to control costs and reduce expenses related to athletics injuries, including a reasonable insurance solution, risk-management strategies, cost-containment solutions and administrative service.

Only about 100 members participate.  It is interesting that in promotional materials for those that do, they start off with the threat of “bad credit.”

Bad Credit can interrupt your post-graduation plans and follow you for years. It is in your best interest to take an active role in managing your medical care and expenses, including taking the following steps to insure maximum insurance benefits and prompt payment…

Provide primary (family) insurance information to all medical service providers at the time of service.

It is optional. And is essentially “gap” coverage for those medical expenses not covered by the family’s policy or institutional policy where the schools afford one.

Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program

The NCAA provides what it calls its Catastrophic Insurance Program.  The Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program provided by the NCAA covers student-athletes, student coaches, student managers, student trainers and student cheerleaders who are catastrophically injured while participating in a Covered Event.  The definition of catastrophic is such most would never qualify- none of those mentioned earlier. 

The Maximum Benefit Amount per Insured Person per Covered Accident, for all benefits combined (except Accidental Death), is $20,000,000.  For institutions participating in the NCAA Group Basic Accident Medical Program, the deductible is $75,000.  For all other eligible institutions, the deductible is $90,000.

The Policy will pay $25,000 if an Insured Person dies as a result of a Covered Accident or sustains injury due to a Covered Accident which, independent of all other causes, results directly in the death of the Insured Person within twelve (12) months following the date of such injury.

There is extensive legalese and exclusionary language in the “program.”

Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program

The NCAA describes this optional policy as-

A disability insurance program for exceptional student-athletes in the sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and men’s ice hockey. The program enables qualifying student-athletes to purchase disability insurance contracts with preapproved financing, if necessary. The program provides student-athletes with the opportunity to protect against future loss of earnings as a professional due to a disabling injury or illness that may occur during their college careers.

This is basically an “invitation only” coverage, which those invited can purchase.  It was created to largely address athletes injured in the season before they go pro with career ending injuries.  It is our understanding Lattimore had this insurance.  Again, the NCAA and member institutions are making a lot of money off of the images and likenesses of these elite athletes, so making them pay for their own insurance for an “on the job” injury is bothersome.  Bill Gates is covered for an on-the-job injury, as is Mark Zuckerberg. The lowest level employee of Microsoft or Facebook is too.  And they don’t have to pay extra.

Future Injuries-

And then there are literally thousands of former student athletes who have no coverage for conditions after their college careers are over- after the 4 years of wear and tear hit them or the concussions and CTE take hold.  The financial exposure of the NCAA is being tested just like the NFL. Recently, three recent college football players and a former women’s soccer player filed a class-action suit claiming the NCAA has been negligent about awareness and treatment of brain injuries to athletes. The NCAA, of course, said the suit has no merit.  The case raises the question of whether the NCAA should provide some aftercare for former athletes or to arrange insurance that would provide training and evaluation for players about concussions and follow-up care for former athletes.

Conclusion-

The system is broken and the NCAA needs to mandate a system similar to workers compensation.  “Student athletes” have so much riding on their athletic careers.  Schools even force the importance of athletics over academics putting them in a further rut if they get injured.  It would be a fairly simple and cost effective system to implement, as workers across the country have it.  It would provide a uniform system to make sure injured athletes are treated as the workforce they are.

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