Sports Injury Insurance Gives Student-Athletes an Assist


The final seconds are ticking off the shot clock. The senior point guard drives down the lane hoping to get the shot and draw a foul to tie the game and potentially take the lead. When he goes up for the layup, he’s fouled and falls hard to the court. The arena goes silent, wondering how badly he’s been injured. The coaches and trainer run to his side to provide assistance. And joining them in spirit, if not in person, is an insurance agent.

Although very few college sports injuries are severe enough for surgery, many of them do require a level of treatment beyond bandages and braces. And when the subject turns to medical care, insurance coverage inevitably follows.

With the men’s and women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournaments kicking off this month, several hundred student-athletes will be pushing their bodies to their limits. What happens to the ones who get injured? How does injury insurance work? And, perhaps most importantly, who pays for it?

The Basics of Student-Athlete Insurance

Insurance for college sports injuries differs from regular health care coverage. The NCAA calls it accident insurance, and it applies specifically to injuries and illnesses that take place while playing sports.

Colleges and universities must verify that their student-athletes have coverage for medical expenses before they can compete, or even practice. Coverage can be provided in one of three ways:

  1. By the college or university. NCAA institutions have the option to provide coverage but aren’t required to.
  2. By parents or guardians.
  3. By the student-athletes themselves.

Student-athletes and families who purchase their own insurance coverage must bear in mind that regular medical insurance policies may exclude sports injuries. Fortunately, a number of companies can provide injury protection for college and high school athletes.

The NCAA has insurance coverage for big events such as March Madness, which can assist with medical expenses up to $90,000.


Special Cases and Elite-Level Athletes

What happens when injuries result in medical costs that exceed $90,000? In those cases, the NCAA Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program applies. This program, paid for entirely by the NCAA, can cover all student-athletes competing in special events, such as March Madness.

The NCAA’s catastrophic coverage can be implemented when serious injuries occur, such as an athlete becoming disabled and unable to compete. The coverage can have a maximum payout of $20 million, according to the NCAA, which can include funds for the student-athlete to complete his or her degree. The deductible for the catastrophic protection is set at $90,000.

When you think of injuries and March Madness, it’s nearly impossible to forget the horrific injury to Louisville guard Kevin Ware during the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Ware was chasing down the ball during the Elite Eight game versus Duke when he sustained a compound fracture to his right tibia – causing the bone to snap and protrude through the skin. Ware was rushed into surgery, which consisted of resetting the bone and inserting a rod to act as a splint. After surgery, he spent time in the hospital so doctors could observe him and make sure he was on the road to recovery before starting the long road of rehabilitation.

WitBasketball Graphich Ware’s injury, his family’s insurance policy, combined with Louisville’s, would only begin to cover the medical expenses. The NCAA’s supplemental coverage – in place for the tournament – stepped in to pay for the remainder, up to $90,000. Ware did not have to pay out of pocket for his medical needs.

What about college athletes with the potential to play at the professional level? The NCAA’s Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program can allow competitors in certain sports, including basketball, to purchase a disability insurance contract that could offer protection if an injury ended their chances of turning pro.

This disability coverage differs from “loss-of-value” insurance, which the NCAA does not provide. An elite athlete predicted to be a high draft pick can purchase a loss-of-value policy before becoming draft-eligible. This type of policy can come in handy if an athlete is significantly injured during his or her season and is either picked much later than projected prior to the injury, or the athlete decides to wait another year to enter the draft. The policy’s underwriters may be obligated to provide compensation if an injury substantially lowers the athlete’s position in the draft.

Some elite athletes who elect to stay in school past their draft eligibility purchase loss-of-value policies as a way to minimize risk. However, cases of former student-athletes collecting on loss-of-value claims are exceedingly rare.

Providing Coverage on the Court

When players take the court for the Big Dance this month, risking harm on the hardwood as they vie for glory, they can have peace of mind knowing their policies, any coverage provided by their respective schools and the NCAA’s protection can help pay for medical expenses that may be necessary in the event of an injury.

So as you enjoy college basketball’s biggest spectacle, remember the role that insurance plays in helping protect student-athletes, their dreams and their futures. You might even think of injury insurance as a “sixth man” — ready to come off the bench and contribute if needed.

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