I am currently finishing Indentured, a book co-authored by New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera and New York Times sportswriter Ben Strauss. This is probably the best book about the NCAA and how its member schools treat college athletes. It is worthwhile reading for the parents of any college-bound high school athlete who wants to continue playing their sport in college.
From reading this book, I learned, among other things, that different schools, even those in the same sports conference, work with college athletes differently.
This leads me to list five questions that any athlete should be able to ask their prospective coach or recruiter, and that the athlete deserves a straight answer.
What will happen to my scholarship in the event that I am injured?
Scholarships are treated differently among the sports conferences. Today, among college athletes recruited by the “Power 5” schools in Division 1 (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC), there should be the expectation that a scholarship will continue, even if s/he cannot play their sport due to injury. The NCAA does not have specific by-laws that protect the athlete on this issue; the conferences have been left to decide on their own. In addition, different schools may view their commitment towards treating and rehabilitating the injury differently.
What is the policy towards covering the costs of treatment and rehabilitation in the event of injury for college athletes?
Indentured provided examples where the school’s obligations ended before treatment and rehabilitation did. Other schools covered all of the costs while the athlete was still in school. You need to find out what each school provides in the way of medical care and insurance and what your medical insurance might or might not cover. In addition, some colleges try to sell students a health insurance policy; it is required for enrollment. They do this in the cases where the student is not covered under their parent’s health insurance. If it is necessary to purchase the school’s insurance–this is not, by the way, covered through athletic scholarships, ask how the coverage kicks in after an athlete is injured. Finally, ask how insurance covers the costs of treatment and rehabilitation in the event the athlete is injured outside of competition and practices. Keep in mind that the NCAA and member schools consider their athletes to be students and not employees. The medical coverage is not likely to be the same for a college athlete as it is for a full-time worker.
If my scholarship continues post-injury, will I still have obligations to the athletic program?
This is an athletic department policy that will not be the same from school to school. Some schools might have a policy that rehabilitation and maintaining good academic standing towards a degree come first. Others might ask the athlete to remain involved with the team by helping the coaches or team managers. Some might even be creative and turn the work into an opportunity much like an internship, depending on the athlete’s college major.
Can I major in any subject that I want to study?
One of the major problems for college athletes in the revenue sports at a Division I school–the best examples are football and men’s basketball–is that the sport is literally a full-time job during the competing season. It can be extremely difficult to pursue majors such as engineering where courses go in lockstep; required courses must be completed before more advanced classes can be started. Some schools make more accommodations to academics that others. If you are serious about a demanding major that has many required courses, make sure that you can take all of the classes that you need and graduate on time.
How can I make contacts for life after college?
The NCAA has frequently advertised that college athletes do not usually go pro in their chosen sport. However, their schedules often make it difficult for them to work in internships that are related to their major or career interests. Co-op schools such as Drexel, which works on a quarter system and Rochester Institute of Technology, which has a trimester schedule, are some exceptions. When an athlete cannot work off campus, s/he will need some avenues to develop their academic and employable skills as well as make connections. This can be done through coursework such as projects for an actual business client, independent study with a faculty member and networking events, among other examples. Athletes who are serious about academics might also want to find out if there is assistance within the athletic department for those who might want to continue their education after college. Different schools have different practices when it comes to academic support for their athletes.