Revenue generated by NCAA football ‘guarantee games’ would more than cover athletes’ insurance premiums

Throughout the college football season, millions of dollars will be paid to schools in exchange for their football teams traveling to play games. That revenue would be more than sufficient to ensure that athletes are fully insured against catastrophic injuries.

The money that teams like Alabama and Florida State will receive for playing neutral site games, in addition to the payments that non-Power 5 conference FBS and FCS teams will add to their coffers for playing road games on Power 5 conference schools’ home fields, is adding up to an eye-popping number this year. The money from these “guarantee games” could easily be used by the schools to provide an additional benefit to their athletes.

According to Steve Berkowitz of USA Today, the total revenue generated by all such games this season will reach around $150 million. Almost half of that, $70 million, is changing hands just this Labor Day weekend. Eight schools affiliated with the Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC are paying at least $1 million for a season-opening opponent from outside of the Power 5 to visit them.

These games work for both sides financially. The home team gets to generate revenue in addition to their conference slate of games and the payout that the visiting team gets usually represents a large portion of the revenue counted upon to meet the demands of the athletic department’s budget.

Perhaps lost in all of the numbers is the fact that the people who work as hard as anyone else to make the games happen aren’t receiving the full potential benefit from them. The players, along with schools’ athletes who play other sports, are subject to a health insurance system which is confusing at best.

The NCAA provides three services in the area of health insurance for athletes who participate in its sports. First off, the NCAA requires that every athlete who participates in any sport to have private health insurance. Secondly, the NCAA pays for a catastrophic injury (think paralysis) policy for all athletes. Lastly, the NCAA allows athletes in certain sports to carry private disability policies.

While those are steps in the right direction, they leave much to be desired. While many athletes are young enough to be covered by policies paid for by their legal guardian(s), that isn’t always the case. Additionally, not all athletes’ families have private health insurance. In some cases, playing college sports like football triggers clauses in insurance contracts that exempts the insurer from having to cover injuries sustained while playing. In order to meet the NCAA’s requirement, an athlete’s family might have to take out an expensive additional policy which would cover injuries sustained while playing NCAA sports.

That catastrophic injury policy carried by the NCAA has a deductible of $90,000 ($75,000 for athletes at schools which participate in the NCAA Group Basic Accident Medical Program) up to which the athlete her/himself and the conference or school are paying for medical expenses.

The disability policies that the NCAA allows athletes to insure themselves against potential loss of future value are only available to athletes who play baseball, football, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey. Men’s and women’s soccer players, for example, would be in violation of NCAA rules if they took out policies similar to that which Jake Butt cashed in on this past May.

The NCAA does not require conferences or schools to carry any coverage on their athletes, but many conferences and schools do so voluntarily. The protection against lawsuits that they offer make them more than worth the cost. Additionally, many injuries sustained by athletes in the course of play are treated by the schools’ medical facilities. In the course of playing NCAA sports, catastrophic injuries are few and far between. That’s a fact that should make conferences and schools carrying their own catastrophic injury policies even more of a no-brainer.

Former University of Wisconsin and NFL linebacker Nick Greisen has spent almost three years working for PFS Specialty Risk Underwriters, an insurance company which specializes in high-limit disability policies. PFS works with athletes and leagues like MLB, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL to provide those individuals and organizations the security that such policies offer. In terms of creating a policy that would alleviate the possibility of athletes and their families having to pay a single cent for care required by a catastrophic injury incurred during participation in NCAA athletics, Greisen believes that the conference structure would be the best way to go.

“Most of the events that the athletes participate in are conference events,” Greisen explained, “The conferences could take out policies covering all athletes in all of its sports which would cover expenses leading up to the NCAA policy, and in that way ensure that everyone has the same coverage.”

The non-conference events, like the University of Iowa’s home game against Wyoming which the Hawkeyes are paying the Cowboys $1 million for, would be left to be covered by the schools. Greisen thinks the amount that Iowa is paying Wyoming, for example, is much more than the Hawkeyes would need to cover all their athletes comprehensively against catastrophic injury.

“I can’t give an exact quote because there are so many variables that we would have to take into account when writing it up,” Greisen commented. “It would be far, far less [than a million dollars annually]. We would absolutely underwrite such a policy. Even if a conference or school wasn’t interested in lifetime benefits, the payout could be significant enough, say two or three million dollars, that it should cover the athlete’s needs.”

PFS stands ready to meet such needs for conferences and schools. The revenue that these games alone, not even taking into account revenue from any other sources that NCAA conferences and schools receive, would more than cover the cost of making sure that any athlete who is injured catastrophically while playing NCAA sports doesn’t have to pay a penny for their lifetime medical care.

This is just one more way that conferences, the NCAA and schools are taking advantage of “amateurism” to their own benefit. If these athletes were considered employees and catastrophically injured while playing, all the costs from their injuries would be covered as a workers’ compensation claim. These athletes contribute no less than the other people who work to make NCAA athletics happen, and they deserve no less in return.

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