The debate about whether South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney should sit out next season, get $5 million in insurance or fight the NFL's draft rules all exposes one gigantic flaw in the system.
The NCAA continues to show little regard for athletes' earning power.
The maximum amount of insurance benefit that any player can get under the NCAA policy is $5 million, according to Chris Radford, an NCAA media relations official. "This insurance program is in place to protect against a career-ending injury, but should not be confused with a 'loss of value' policy, which the NCAA does not offer," Radford said. As first reported by FOXSports.com, Clowney is currently working on securing that much coverage.
To the credit of the NCAA, it has set up a program where a player can get a low-coast loan for the premium and pay it later. Typically, a $5 million policy will cost anywhere from $45,000 to $65,000, Salgado said. The premium is, like most insurance policies, dependent on a number of factors, including what position the player plays.
"The NCAA grades the athletes at anywhere from $1 million, $2 million, $3 million, $4 million, all the way up to $5 million and then lets the player go to a lender for the loan," said insurance broker Rich Salgado of Coastal Advisors LLC. "The player never actually gets the money, it's paid straight from the lender to the insurance company, so it's a very simple, tight system and it's a very, very good rate for the player. We would all be fortunate to borrow money at those rates."
That's good, but it also ignores reality. An athlete like Clowney, who Yahoo! cohort Michael Silver correctly identifies as a potential No. 1 pick this April if he were in the draft, is worth well over $20 million right now. Even after the worst taxes you could imagine, that's about $11 or $12 million.
The decision to stay in school is a tough one. Do you really want to risk $6 million or $7 million just for the right to line up for South Carolina for free, particularly after you watched teammate Marcus Lattimore tear up his knee last season?
This is not a small amount of money. Sure, $5 million goes a long way, but not nearly as far as $11 million or $12 million. Thus, as much as South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier likes to pooh-pooh the idea of Clowney not playing, it's not an absurd notion.
Tons of players have gone through this situation. In 2009, some analysts projected Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap as a top-five pick. Sadly, Dunlap played that season as if he was scared to get hurt, Florida coaches fumed about it and told NFL personnel people that Dunlap was worried about the money. Dunlap fell to the second round in 2010 and has played pretty much like a second-round pick over three seasons.
This is not to say Clowney will do the same thing, but the NCAA (and the NFL) would be wise to give him the financial security to play another year of college without fear of ruining his future. A total of $10 million in insurance policies would cost roughly $90,000 to $130,000. That's money well spent for peace of mind. Moreover, it's not that big a risk for the insurance company. These policies are written so that companies pay off only if the player never plays again, a rarity in today's advanced medicine and rehabilitation.
That's why some agents tell players to not worry about the insurance. Salgado, of course, recoils at that logic.
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"I hear that and I get into arguments with agents all the time. I tell them, 'Don't guess on someone's life. Let them plan it out and see what they want to do,'" Salgado said.
Doesn't it make sense for the NCAA to make sure that someone such as Clowney, who is already being restricted by rules that few people in the real world have to face, should have the same chance to plan out his life?
This is exactly what the NCAA, which profits so much from guys like Clowney, should do. Instead, it sits back with arbitrary rules that force guys like Clowney to think about equations that run counter to the simple joy of playing.
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