College and University

PAC 12 to cover athlete medical costs after graduation


College and University

PAC 12 to cover athlete medical costs after graduation

Schools will incur the cost of a student-athlete's medical bills for at least four years after graduation

As a gesture of goodwill and acknowledgment of the changing landscape of college athletics, the Pac-12 is looking to become one of the first conferences to cover the lingering medical costs of injuries sustained while in college.

“Hopefully this demonstrates to anyone that’s paying attention that reform is possible within a conference, within the NCAA, and that there are schools out there serious about it and will redirect a lot of resources toward it,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, addressing the long-standing criticism that the NCAA has no regard for student-athletes’ needs after graduation.

Starting this fall, the conference will mandate that its member schools incur the cost of a student-athlete’s medical bills for at least four years after he or she leaves or graduates from the school, or until he or she turns 26 (whichever comes first).

But the dispersion of such monies won’t be easy for the Pac-12’s member schools to navigate. As of now, the responsibility to determine its own policies and mechanisms for determining which athletes will be eligible for the post-grad medical benefits with zero oversight from the conference itself. This means that there will likely be wide-ranging parity in paid expenses between member schools.

It’s a situation that has the Pac-12’s athletic directors and trainers concerned about the procedures and language in student-athletes’ medical charts.

“It’s such a difficult thing to wrap your head around because what’s continuation of a problem and what’s a new problem?” Arizona athletic trainer Randy Cohen told CBS Sports. “How do you handle people who continue to do activities and maybe you recommend they don’t continue doing that? We really want to take care of these kids. But at what point is it the risk of playing sports and having injuries versus we hurt you?”

That sentiment is just one of a few critical aspects that will need to be ironed out as conferences works out the kinks in the new mandate over the next years. Another — how will individual schools find revenue to pay out the cost of these insurance policies?

“The only issue is it will place some additional financial burden on athletic programs that are becoming more burdened with other benefits like enhanced snacks and full cost of attendance,” said Dave Roberts, USC vice president of athletic compliance. “In my view, you like rational order. You don’t like things that are confusing and difficult to apply and track. It’s well-intentioned. We’re hopefully going to have a program that benefits athletes and doesn’t become so economically burdensome that it drags down the program.”

Then, of course, there’s the tricky transfer rule: if a player transfers with a nagging injury, which school is on the hook for the cost of those post-graduate years of medical treatment? The Pac-12’s bylaws release the player’s original school from the financial responsibility, but California has its own set of laws that could mean that a transfer’s original school needs to pay up.

“I hate to say it, but it’s probably something that has to shake out in the future,” Roberts said. “I could see instances where we might be obligated to take care of a transfer who transfers away, but under the Pac-12 guidelines that wouldn’t be the case.”

While passing a bylaw that makes its member schools responsible for former student-athletes’ medical expenses is a valiant effort, the Pac-12 no doubt finds itself diving deep into murky waters to develop the structure of its payouts.

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