This past week, all 76 players on the Northwestern University football team cast their historic votes as players, former and current, push for the first-ever players union for college athletes.
Many view it as a sign of things to come for student-athletes who have long felt that their sacrifices, both physical and financial, have far outweighed the benefit of a scholarship or financial aid.
It’s no secret that member colleges of the NCAA have made billions of dollars on the talents and drawing powers of student-athletes who never see a (legal) dime for their efforts.
At Joliet Junior College, a Division III school within the NJCAA with no ability to hand out scholarships to student-athletes, the union being voted on at Northwestern has no effect on it, nor does it on the NJCAA. But it’s an interesting topic to look into.
What protections are student-athletes provided in the instance of a catastrophic injury?
Who’s covering who in the junior college circuit, where student-athletes routinely use the NJCAA as a springboard to the NCAA and above?
The main case being made by former Northwestern QB Kain Colter, via his testimony before the National Labor Relations Board last month, is that there is "no way around" the fact that football is a "job."
While the NCAA regulates the time student-athletes can spend on official athletic activities to only 20 hours per week, Colter testified under oath that he routinely spent 50-60 hours per week on football.
While the NJCAA outlines guidelines for in-season and off-season practices, scrimmages, and athletic activities, there is no hourly limit to the work a student-athlete can put in.
While that would be a ‘smoking gun’ kind of loophole for student-athletes, it’s not exactly a major conundrum for the athletic staff at JJC.
The school’s athletic information director, Stephanie Kneip, says that JJC’s student-athletes don’t necessarily require that hourly limit because their time in practices are limited enough as it is.
"If (the NCAA’s) limit is 20 hours, (our athletes) probably spend somewhere around 12 hours a week in practice," Kneip said.
LOWERING THE RISK
Another protection a possible union in the NCAA would provide is the ability for student-athletes to streamline their access to a hardship waiver in the case of a major injury.
Players in the NCAA who attend schools on athletic scholarships lose a year of eligibility if a hardship waiver is not procured.
While JJC does not provide athletic scholarships, the student-athletes here are still at risk each and every time they take the field or the court.
At the end of last season, budding women’s basketball star Le’Roiya Campbell suffered a season-ending Lisfranc (mid-foot) injury.
On her Facebook fan page, operated by her family, Campbell’s injury was blamed on the fact that opposing players would step on her foot to prevent her from beating them down the floor.
In the event of such injuries, JJC has policies in place that protect both entities – school and player – from any sort of negligence.
In a letter sent to all prospective student-athletes, as well their parents or guardians (for those still covered by their parents’ insurance), the college requires all student-athletes "to show proof of insurance which meets the following criteria before they will be eligible to practice or play at Joliet Junior College:
-The policy must cover athletic related injuries.
-The policy must provide a minimum coverage of $10,000.
-The policy must cover the athlete for the time he/she is participating in JJC athletics
(Many athletes participate in one or more sports during the entire academic year)."
-The notice goes on to outline that:
"The college will provide secondary insurance for athletic-related acute injuries, not including overuse injuries, pre-existing injuries, injuries occurred outside of athletics, or illness."
"This insurance will cover athletic related medical expenses that are left after the student-athlete’s primary insurance has been billed and met the $10,000 limit per injury."
The lack of coverage for ‘overuse’ injuries was a perplexing part of that rhetoric, so I sought out JJC’s head athletic trainer, Nate Seville for clarification on what the college considered to be ‘overuse’ and how those injuries were treated.
"Overuse injuries are more common in sports than acute injuries; they are subtle and usually occur over time, making them challenging to diagnose and treat," Seville said.
"We will treat these injuries, but JJC’s insurance (secondary insurance) will not cover them. Any doctor’s visits or physical therapy will be cover by the athlete’s insurance only."
JJC does a first-class job in creating a safe environment for all of their student-athletes.
ATI contracts out personnel to be on-site for all athletic events, and their presence is felt with every bump, bruise and major injury that occurs.
While the NJCAA has differentiated many of their guidelines between recommendations and requirements, the coaches and medical staff at JJC, in conjunction with ATI, are firm in their belief that the health of the student-athlete comes first, above all else.