Ask the Experts

Athletic Abandon

Our fraternity has several athletes on scholarship. If they can no longer play, even with good grades, what happens to my friends?

Your question is touching because you omit the obvious. When you say your friends cannot play for their college teams, you mean they were injured on the field. This is a harsh reality of college sports, which does not offer the same financial compensation or protections of professional sports leagues. There are clearly rules protecting college athletes, but even ObamaCare does not cover medical expenses for many events. We will examine what protections college competitors receive by law, NCAA rule and even goodwill.

How many student athletes are injured each year? The statistics are compiled by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association which collects reports submitted by trainers. The figure of around 12,500 serious injuries-per-year has been consistent over the past few years. Over 54% of students claim to have played while injured, while over 90% reported some kind of sports-related injury during their college years.

Who picks up the medical bills for injuries caused while playing sports at college? NCAA member institutions are not obliged to provide long-term care for athletes who have lost eligibility or graduated. This also extends to student athletes who have lost their scholarships while still enrolled at college due to injury and inability to play.

NCAA bylaws require that student athletes have medical insurance to cover expenses relating to sports injuries. Colleges are not required to cover expenses that exceed insurance limits, leaving the students or parents to pay the bill. When treatment exceeds $90,000, NCAA Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program will apply. Student athletes participating in NCAA championship events are covered by insurance under the Participant Accident Program.

NCAA-sponsored disability insurance is available for exceptional athletes who are likely to be picked up for the NFL, NHL, and NBA, to protect against future loss of earnings.

Coverage of medical expenses varies from college-to-college. NCAA-member institutions can determine their own policies and procedures, although not required, some will pay for injury expenses. Smaller institutions are unlikely to offer any financial assistance for minor injury or medical care.

The NCAA has now permitted Division 1 institutions to offer multi-year scholarships. However, most colleges continue to offer scholarships as renewable one-year contracts. This is bad news for student athletes who could lose the scholarship after the year due to injury and are left with medical expenses.

In 2012, California passed the Student Athlete Bill of Rights which declares that universities generating more than $10M in media revenue from sports must guarantee athletic scholarships and shoulder some of the burden of injury-related medical expenses.

The only way to prove that you’re a good sport is to lose… Ernie Banks.

Jacob Maslow is the founder and editor of Legal Scoops.