Insurance an option for cream of crop in men’s college sports

Wrenn Levenberg

(U-WIRE) STANFORD, Calif. — Have you ever thought of purchasing insurance against yourself? Most people our age haven’t, but student athletes who are on their way to a career in professional sports seriously consider this option and can pursue it through the Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Program.
According to Cheryl Levick, the senior associate athletics director at Stanford, this NCAA-sponsored program “provides an avenue for student athletes who have pro potential to purchase insurance against themselves during their senior year in college.”
But this program is only available to male student-athletes who will finish their college career as first- or second-round draft picks in the NFL, NHL, NBA or Major League Baseball. Generally, the athlete purchases an insurance policy for his senior year, which then terminates once he is drafted when the team takes over the insurance.
In the process, an athlete who sees himself on the way to obtaining a professional sports contract first contacts an insurance company. The chosen company then contacts the prospective professional league, which determines whether the athlete is eligible.
The price of the insurance is based on the athlete’s anticipated income, and because most leagues have a set salary for first- and second-round draft picks, insurance companies can predict this income and thus project potential income loss, should injury occur.
This is “a wonderful program,” Levick said. “It helps keep students across the country from going pro early.”
It might be wonderful, but it is also confusing and costly.
First, the athlete is personally responsible for setting up this insurance. He receives no assistance from the NCAA or his school. Athletic Affairs Coordinator Susan Burk encourages athletes to call numerous companies to compare rates. This is particularly important since students often hear about this opportunity through agents, who could have a side deal with a particular insurance company.
The athlete must then make sure that the chosen insurance company fulfills all of the NCAA guidelines that have been established in order protect athletes’ collegiate eligibility.
Finally, he must purchase the insurance.
Such an insurance policy is not cheap. In response to the high costs of this insurance, the Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Program allows students to get the insurance on a deferred-payment basis.
This opportunity is described in the NCAA Division I Manual: “An individual may borrow against his or her future earnings potential from an established, accredited commercial lending institution exclusively for the purpose of purchasing insurance against disabling injury or illness that would prevent the individual from pursuing a chosen career.”
Participation in such a program is “vital,” said sophomore Mark Madsen, a forward on the Stanford basketball team.
“Any athlete who has a chance to be a high pick in professional athletics and who opts to return to school for the senior year should definitely take out an insurance policy.”
Millions of dollars could be lost if injuries occur without insurance.
Presently, no Stanford athletes participate in this program. It is difficult because athletes do not begin to inquire until their senior year. For one student athlete, Burk said, almost half the season was over by the time he had obtained an adequate policy.
By that time, it was not worth it to make the purchase.
Female athletes are excluded from this program because there were no professional team opportunities for women until recently. However, the establishment of the ABL and WNBA has opened up such opportunities for women, and a two-year history of women’s professional basketball should provide a benchmark by which insurance companies can determine potential salary ranges.
Knee injuries to basketball stars Vanessa Nygaard and Kristen Folkl this winter have spurred investigation into female athlete’s accessibility to the Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Program by the Athletic Department. Levick would like to see this program available to women by this coming fall, especially for volleyball and basketball.
Confusion arises in this pursuit, however, as a function of the newness of these leagues. For example, drafting procedures for women are very different from the NBA. An athlete may sign a contract with the WNBA and then participate in an internal draft, but she waives the right to drafted in the ABL. And in the ABL, athletes are drafted by region, not by team.
There is no protocol for the drafting procedure in the women’s leagues. “Organizations are way too fluid,” Burk said, “to nail down how this will work” for female athletes.
Another problem, according to Burk, is not knowing about the program.
“I don’t believe women’s basketball coaches knew this existed for athletes,” she said.