By Jeffrey S. Kravitz, Esquire & Sekou Campbell, Esquire
Sam Kahn, Jr. of ESPN Radio recently reported that Johnny Manziel is exploring the option of "Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance," provided by the NCAA. The insurance coverage is reported to be routinely sought by players in Manziel's position. Insurance, a frequent theme on this blog, poses interesting questions for college athletics generally, and for the "exceptional athlete" in particular.
Most critically, perhaps, insurance may be a way to reconcile the NCAA's tension between amateurism and big-money media contracts. Generally, insurance is a type of compensation. Employees frequently receive health insurance, life insurance, retirement insurance and other forms of financial protection as part of their compensation. However, the actual payout is generally deferred until a "triggering event."
The Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program, however, limits who can pull the "trigger" and makes the "trigger" itself tiny compared to the potential losses all student athletes face. The policy provides coverage for a limited number of athletes (top round draft picks in baseball, basketball, football, and men's hockey), charges a premium (though there is a mechanism for impecunious players to acquire the necessary coverage), and pays out in a limited number of circumstances ("permanent total disability," requiring what amounts to a career-ending injury).
However, the NCAA's insurance policy is, at worst, a tepid acknowledgment that at least some of its athletes bear a burden by playing NCAA sports. Advocates for compensating athletes may be able to convince the NCAA that the success of its nearly 25-year old insurance program may be due for some broadening for two reasons.
First, this policy does not cover the "late bloomer" exceptional athlete. For instance, the current insurance policy would have likely excluded the likes of Scottie Pippen, Tom Brady, or Randy Johnson. Second, athletes who decide to "go pro in something other than sports," also bear a risk from injury. For instance, a student-athlete may suffer a hand injury foreclosing her from a career as a surgeon. There are obvious costs to expanding exceptional athlete insurance, but those can be captured in premiums, deductibles and other terms, as with any insurance package.