That Broken Leg, Ctd

by Doug Allen

Responding to David Sirota’s fear that Ware’s injury would cause him to lose his scholarship, a reader writes:

In the case of a career-ending injury, the NCAA allows the school to continue financial aid to the injured player “off the books” (i.e. without it counting against the limit the NCAA imposes in each sport). It is a remarkable bit of common sense on the part of an organization that doesn’t show it very often.

Additionally, Louisville has made it clear that Ware will pay no out-of-pocket expenses for his medical treatment. Meanwhile, the injury has renewed the debate over the relationship between universities and their “student-athletes.” Anna North calculates the worker’s compensation for which Ware would be eligible if he were a paid employee:

Workers’ compensation [PDF] in Kentucky is based on the employee’s average weekly wage. Ware doesn’t make a wage, per se — that’s another feature of being a student-athlete. But researchers at Drexel University estimated [PDF] the fair market value of college players, based on how much they could make professionally; they estimated a University of Louisville basketball player’s market value for 2011-2012 at $1,632,103. An employee making that much in Kentucky would run up against worker’s comp maximums, which are pegged to the state’s average weekly wage. If that employee were totally disabled for a year from an on-the-job injury, he or she would get $39,139.88.

Jon Green thinks the “student-athlete” is a myth:

[L]et’s not kid ourselves; especially on powerhouse teams, collegiate rosters are filled out by athlete-students, not the other way around. From one-and-done recruits to softball courses specifically for varsity athletes to outright grade-changes, the idea that players are really on campus for the sake of going to college, and only play sports on the side, is laughable. They are on campus to win games and make money for their respective universities, though ticket sales, ad revenue and licensing rights. It is time they were paid accordingly.

While this may be true for athletes in the higher-profile sports like basketball and football, which always garner a lot of attention, it’s not the case for all student-athletes, even at very competitive Division 1 schools. Some of my good friends from college were student-athletes, in the very best sense of the word: they managed to balance their athletic and academic responsibilities and move on to successful careers after graduation.

I think that this ongoing debate about compensation for student-athletes (see previous Dish coverage here, here, here, here and here) often ignores a key point: the experience of playing a game that you love at a high level.

While in college, I was an athlete on a club sports team that traveled all over the country to play in tournaments. I did not receive a scholarship, and nearly all of my expenses for equipment, travel, and medical care for the injuries I sustained were out-of-pocket. There was never any hope of making money as a professional athlete after school, yet I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

The relationship between schools and athletes could certainly be improved. Previous readers have pointed to the prohibition on endorsements as particularly problematic, and I agree. Maybe colleges should be encouraged to think more long-term about their student-athletes, setting up safety nets for students like Ware who are injured while representing their school, to ensure that such injuries don’t threaten their ability to complete their education should they choose to. But I think the image of the poor, burdened, college athlete who suffers endlessly to line the pockets of their athletic department is a bit overdone.