NCAA Should Improve Disability Insurance

While Tim Tebow recovers from his concussion the issue of disability insurance for collegiate student athletes warrants more attention. The need to provide protection for the long term earning potential has only been part of the college sports landscape for the past 20 years or so but the time has long passed to improve the system in place.

Keith Lerner has been writing such policies in Gainesville for more than 20 years. While he has signed several Gators to policies over the years the majority of his clients have actually been from other schools. I had Learner on my Gainesville radio show Wednesday to discuss the process of getting coverage and the rules governing it.

Before we get to that, let's understand the basics. Student-athletes can take out an insurance policy to protect them from career ending injury (on or off the field). The cost is generally $10,000 for every $1 million in coverage. The policy pays out if you never play professionally, but there is also the option to pay more and get coverage in the event your draft status slips dramatically due to an injury. Such a policy might have helped Cornelius Ingram, for example.

The student athlete or a direct family member must pay the policy, but it is legal to obtain a bank loan to pay the premium.

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LV: Keith, exactly what can be covered in these policies and how badly does someone have to be injured in order to collect?

KL: The coverage is provided 24 hours a day so they are covered on the field and off the field as well. So if the player was injured in a car accident and could not play professionally then the policy would pay. It has to be a career ending injury and the payment is made one year after the injury. There have been a handful of players who have had doctors certify they would not be able to play but two or three years later due to medical science they could. In those cases they did have to pay the policy back.

LV: How much coverage is allowed and how do you determine whether a particular player deserves that much coverage?

KL: It used to be that $ One Million was the goal. That was a big policy. Now with players projected to go in the top five or six we can write policies for up to $ 15 Million. I use about five different sources including Mel Kiper and other draft gurus who are out there to determine a year or two in advance where a particular player might be picked.

LV: Right now people are talking a lot about concussions. Is it safe to assume a concussion and/or post concussion syndrome would be covered?

KL: It is. What the schools have been doing before the season starts and then testing someone after this kind of injury (really helps). The technology is much better in this area. We, as underwriters are concerned about concussions. We have had some claims from that and there's always the concern that after a player has one or more that a doctor will say you just can't play any more.

LV: How hard is it for some families to come up with the money for the premiums?

KL: It is very difficult, but the NCAA has recognized the importance of disability insurance and through recent legislation allows family members with certain limitations to obtain a bank loan through an accredited lending institution and have the payments including interest deferred until after they receive their signing bonus.

LV: I think the NCAA should pay for the policy since they benefit from the player staying in school.

KL: What about the individual schools? They benefit even more directly when Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy or Sam Bradford return. They make the schools lots of money and create lots of hype and TV ratings and everything else.

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Learner adds about 80 percent of the disability policies are written for football players with a few in basketball and baseball. He says the new NBA rules requiring players to be at least one year removed from high school before entering the league has led a number of players who see themselves as "one and done" collegians to take out policies too.


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