In the aftermath of Kevin Ware's serious leg injury, there were questions about who would foot the bill for Ware and what the NCAA and its membership schools could do for an injured student-athlete.
Since the injury and surgery, it has been released that Ware and his family will not have to pay for the initial medical care. But that isn't how it is for every student-athlete playing for an NCAA school.
Student-athletes like Kyle Hardrick found that out the hard way. Hardrick signed to play basketball at Oklahoma, but knee injuries interrupted his career. The Hardrick's have had to pay $10,000 out of pocket because their insurance didn't cover all of the costs, and Oklahoma didn't pay like Louisville is paying for Ware's surgery.
The NCAA's rules on medical insurance and who pays for what can be confusing. The rules have left many athletes like Hardrick in the dark and confused about who pays when an athlete is on scholarship. Ware's injury has reignited a debate about whether or not the NCAA should be paying the insurance for student-athletes, not the schools or student-athletes themselves.
The NCAA's Rules for Medical Coverage
The NCAA requires every student-athlete to have personal insurance. The insurance policy can be held by the student-athletes, parents, guardians or through the school. But every student-athlete must have medical insurance to be allowed to participate in intercollegiate games, practices or any team workouts.
However, the NCAA does have the same set of rules for its membership schools.
Thankfully for Ware, Louisville is one of the majority of NCAA Division 1 programs that cover their student-athletes. While an NCAA spokesperson told USA Today that almost all Division 1 and most Division 2 and Division 3 programs cover student-athletes. That seems pretty good, but "almost all" means some athletes are not covered.
Student-Athletes Caught in "The Gap"
The result of the schools not covering student-athletes' injuries can result in confusion about who is supposed to pay for the bill. Some players have been told that their insurance and the school's insurance didn't cover all of the medical bills.
One such unnamed player found out about the money he owed six years after his injury when he tried to buy a car.
Hardrick's family was not only stuck paying the medical bills for procedures Valerie Hardrick, Kyle's mother, didn't even know where taking place.
"[Paying the medical bills] has been difficult, no doubt," Valerie said. "You don't imagine paying those medical bills out of your own pocket when your child gets a scholarship."
The NCAA is trying to eliminate "the gap" and confusion by improving the communication between the schools and the student-athletes. But maybe it's time for the NCAA to take a completely different approach when it comes to student-athletes' health care.
Loopholes for NCAA and Its Members
The first and most glaring problem with the NCAA's health care is that once a student-athlete is no longer enrolled and under scholarship, they don't receive any medical help from their school.
That is a big enough problem for former athletes that have injuries that limit mobility and therefore quality of life and ability to find jobs. But with the growing concerns about the studies done on the effects of concussions in the lawsuit against the NFL, the NCAA could be dealing with a whole different issue.
Along those lines, NCAA scholarships are still of the one-year renewable variety. A student-athlete is given scholarships on a year-to-year basis. Which allows coaches to refuse to renew a scholarship of a player that isn't healthy enough to play.
That is what happened with Hardrick at Oklahoma. Now his family isn't just having to unexpectedly pay medical bills, but also having to pay his tuition.
Catastrophic Insurance Program
The Catastrophic Insurance Program is in place to provide medical care for:
"A student-athlete, student coaches , student managers, student trainers or student cheerleaders who are injured catastrophically during a covered event."
According to the program "covered event" means, for players on an athletic team: (a.) a Qualifying Intercollegiate Sport competition scheduled by the Insured Person's Participating School; (b.) official team activities; (c.) Conditioning; or (d.) practice sessions.
Any injury that results in $90,000 worth of medical bills will be covered by the Catastrophic Insurance Program. It is not about the severity of the injury, rather the cost. Therefore Ware's surgery is being covered by Louisville unless it eclipses that $90,000 threshold.
Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program
The Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program is for student-athletes that will be selected in the first three rounds of the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA or WNBA drafts. The student-athletes can get disability insurance with pre-approved financing.
The program was instituted to keep the student-athletes away from agents that would promise them insurance if the student-athlete would sign with them when they went pro.
Several athletes have taken advantage of this opportunity. Most have been high-profile football players. Such as Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, who took out an insurance policy before his redshirt-junior season in 2010.
Should the NCAA Cover Its Student-Athletes' Medical Insurance
I have never been proponent of paying student-athletes for participating in intercollegiate competition. Not because I'm for the NCAA and its membership schools making all the money, but because the student-athletes are getting a free education and a one-to-five year job interview for one of the highest paying fields in our country: Professional sports.
But I do believe the NCAA should centralize the health care of all of its student-athletes because they are what makes the NCAA profitable.
These 18- to 23-year-old students are putting their bodies on the line to perform and represent these membership schools and the NCAA. Because of that, the NCAA should protect their student-athletes, not just during their five years of eligibility, but for as long as the effects of their injuries last.
Leaving it up to each school is the NCAA's way of ignoring their responsibility to protect these student-athletes. By allowing each school to decide how to handle each injury and each one-year renewable scholarship the NCAA is basically saying they care about their athletes for one year.
Yet throughout the NCAA basketball tournament, and really anytime an NCAA sporting event is on TV, there will undoubtedly be a commercial, banner or something showing how well the NCAA supports its student-athletes.
But isn't the best way the NCAA can support them is by making sure they maintain their health for raking in money for the NCAA?
To me it's a no-brainer, but those in charge of the NCAA are too busy having their wallets supported by the student-athletes, rather than them supporting the student-athletes like all of the commercials and banners say they do.
Or as former USC football player Bob DeMars put it in a NY Times article:
“College athletes aren’t employees, so there’s no workmen’s compensation. They tell us we’re student-athletes because it’s not a job. But it sure is a business, and it’s not a nonprofit.”