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NCAA player's leg injury raises workers' compensation questions

Many Arizonans who were watching the NCCA Tournament unfold may have seen the aftermath of Louisville basketball star Kevin Ware's horrific injury sustained on the court. The injury involves a compound fracture and will likely require extensive rehabilitation. Ware's personal injury also calls into question his future as a college or professional basketball player.

The story has also raised nationwide awareness of the fact that even in the country's premiere colleges, student-athletes who participate in dangerous sports may find themselves with mounting medical expenses for which they must be personally responsible.

While the NCAA provides some insurance in certain cases, a student-athlete will usually rely on his or her family's health insurance policy to cover medical expenses. However, these private policies do not pay for all medical bills and ongoing treatment. Moreover, health insurance certainly does not pay for the lost income these young athletes might suffer as a result of an injury early on in their careers.

Nevertheless, these players are not eligible for workers' compensation benefits as a rule because they are not considered employees of the school. Instead, they are treated as students who are volunteering to play a sport, sometimes in exchange for a scholarship. Therefore, the student's college has no ongoing responsibility to ensure that these students will have benefits should they sustain a serious injury while playing a sport for their school.

Some have suggested that the time has come to change this practice. These people point out that while the students may technically be "amateur" athletes who play for the love of the game and not for profit, the business of college sports is certainly far from a non-profit charity, sometimes allowing schools to rake in millions of dollars annually.

These people argue that in fairness, if the school is profiting from the business of college sports, then the school ought to have the same responsibility to those athletes who make that business profitable as would any other employer have to its employees.

Source: The New York Times, "When injured athlete leave campus, college's responsibility ends," Bill Pennington, April 4, 2013

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