Between the terrible events surrounding the Penn State football program, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke’s record-breaking win, and Taylor Branch’s controversial article in the September 2011 issue of The Atlantic magazine, there’s been a lot of coverage of college sports in the news lately. This isn’t necessarily unusual for Nebraskans. Our own University of Nebraska has one of the premier football programs, one which is revered by Cornhusker fans far and wide.
The bottom line of these posts is that athletes face serious health risks – from brain injuries to chronic obesity, and yet, in most states, collegiate athletes have only basic student health coverage to protect them and are prohibited by the NCAA’s strict rules from earning extra income to purchase additional coverage.
Since 1984, Nebraska law has provided additional protection for college athletes. Our schools offer a rare exception among college athletics programs by offering students a form of workers’ compensation.
In The Atlantic, Branch makes the point that the NCAA has treated college athletes unfairly for years. Schools profit tremendously from the risks student athletes take without compensating them beyond their college scholarships.
But Nebraska is different. Since 1984, Nebraska law has provided additional protection for college athletes. Our schools offer a rare exception among college athletics programs by offering students a form of workers’ compensation.
If we do continue to enforce amateurism in collegiate sports, perhaps Nebraska law can serve as an example for other states to follow.
This difference is because in 1984 the Nebraska Legislature enacted a law (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 85-106.05), which mandated that the University of Nebraska establish an insurance program to provide coverage to student athletes for personal injury or death while participating in university- organized games or practice in an intercollegiate athletic event.
This law covers students in ways similar to workers’ compensation, providing medical coverage and some monetary benefit to athletes who become disabled while participating in an official collegiate game or a practice. The full text of the law, outlining of the kind of coverage students receive, is here.
This noble bill was passed through the tireless efforts of a long time workers advocate in the NE legislature, Senator Ernie Chambers. It is not clear how many injured and disabled athletes have been paid benefits but we can all sleep better knowing that the law is on the books to protect them.
As Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis puts it, “whether you like it or not, college athletes are in fact, amateurs. They’ll never be compensated like professionals.”
Between the rise of super-conferences and the nebulous future of the BCS system, the future of the NCAA and amateurism remains uncertain. Recently the NCAA granted athletes up to $2,000 of additional annual grant money to support them in their studies. You might think that the NCAA’s detractors would applaud this change, but it has been met largely with silence. That’s because many believe that the NCAA’s policies must be radically changed in order to be fair and just for student athletes. But it is a tricky issue and there is no clear consensus. As Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis puts it in the clip below, “whether you like it or not, college athletes are in fact, amateurs. They’ll never be compensated like professionals.”
If we do continue to enforce amateurism in collegiate sports, perhaps Nebraska law can serve as an example for other states to follow. Providing insurance for injured athletes gives at least a small safety net to the thousands of athletes who compete for the pride and financial success of their educational institutions. While using a workers’ compensation-type system is not a perfect fit, the hybrid law developed by Senator Chambers is a good and decent approach, and much better than leaving those we cheer for on the field of play helpless in the face of the injuries they risk for our entertainment.