I need an NCAAmbulance: Medical care in the NCAA

By  Theodore Kortenhof

Intercollegiate athletic competition is a great way to foster bonds between colleges and students. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) management of college athletes is riddled with issues and exploitation. The NCAA should do a better job to support athletes in the event of athletic injuries.

I am a varsity athlete at Lawrence, and participate in cross country and track, both of which are regulated by the NCAA. Because Lawrence participates in intercollegiate athletics, a conversation about athletics and the needs of athletes is relevant and important to the school.

The NCAA is one of the largest regulatory bodies in college athletics. Schools within the NCAA are divided into three divisions: one, two and three. Lawrence is a division three school. The highest levels of competition occur in division one.

Athletes are required to maintain a status of amateurism for NCAA eligibility. They cannot accept endorsements, prize money or other compensation for their athletic endeavors. However, athletes are allowed to accept compensation for travel and lodging for competitions, but nothing more. The only exception to this rule is in tennis, where athletes are allowed to collect a maximum of $10,000 per year in prize money.

Athletic scholarships are another form of compensation athletes are allowed to accept. Scholarships can only be accepted in divisions one and two. Because Lawrence is a division three school, the NCAA prohibits it from granting athletic scholarships.

While scholarships are a form of compensation, they do not cover athletics-related medical expenses. At institutions where athletic scholarships can be granted, scholarship money only pays for the costs of attending the school. Scholarship money cannot be used to pay for medical expenses related to participation in athletics. As such, even athletes on scholarship need a safety net to help cope with injuries.

Athletic injuries are far from uncommon, and are not adequately dealt with by the NCAA. The NCAA provides monetary medical assistance to athletes through its catastrophic injury program, but this assistance is insufficient. To qualify for assistance through the NCAA, a $90,000 deductible must be met by an injured athlete. This means that before NCAA aid money is granted, an injured athlete must pay $90,000 towards treatment, after which the NCAA will settle the remaining bill.

To ensure that athletes will not need to meet the full $90,000 deductible out of pocket, the NCAA requires athletes to have personal medical insurance. This insurance is expected to provide for athletes in the event of injury. It counts towards the aforementioned $90,000 deductible.

While insurance negates some of the cost of sports-related medical care, personal medical insurance does not always provide enough assistance for athletes. Plans that satisfy the insurance requirement can include expensive co-pays and deductibles. In the event of injury, athletes can still end up paying out of pocket for treatments, even with insurance.

While athletes risk injuries, the NCAA turns profits. The NCAA makes money by selling advertising and broadcasting rights for athletic events. According to the NCAA’s website, it made $705 million in 2011 through television and marketing fees, 81 percent of its overall revenue for the year. The majority of this money is made off of division one competitions. As a division three competitor, Lawrence is not a massive contributor towards the NCAA’s earnings. However, the NCAA still profits off of division two and three athletes. As such, the NCAA should be expected to provide for the sports-related medical expenses of all its athletes.

To protect collegiate athletes, a dialogue about medical care for athletes should be opened between the athletes, colleges and NCAA. The NCAA makes money through a system that allows athletes to risk injury without a clear financial plan should an injury arise. This practice should come to an end. The NCAA should be pressured to do more to insure that injured athletes receive the care they require since it makes money off its athletes. The least it can do is spend money to keep them in shape.