Are Injured College Players Eligible For Social Security Disability Insurance?

There is always risk when playing sports — especially at a near-professional level on a prestigious school’s high-profile team. These injuries might be minor or they might be catastrophic and career-ending. Some sports are more inherently dangerous than others: those who play rugby or football are much more likely to suffer serious injury than a soccer or basketball player. What financial protections are in place for college athletes who get injured?

In general, a person who suffers a debilitating injury would simply file a claim for social security disability insurance (SSDI). But here’s the rub: if you’re a college player seriously injured while playing the sport, you haven’t really paid into the pool for disability insurance, which means you’re probably either ineligible or not eligible for much.

Most college athletics programs are governed by the NCAA, which recently requested new regulatory action from Congress. While we wait for new rules to travel down the pipeline, here’s what we know based on the rules as they are right now: the NCAA is required to guarantee disability coverage to all players under its umbrella of protection. 

There are two primary types of coverage: PTD and ESDI. The first is permanent total disability (PTD) coverage, which is actually granted through the second: Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance (ESDI). The latter form of insurance grants protections for both injuries and illnesses sustained during a college program that could preclude them from ever playing at the professional level.

Part of the reason for this insurance is based on what we already mentioned: SSDI primarily covers those who have paid into the pool. College players haven’t worked long enough to do that, which means they don’t have eligibility. And even if they did, they’d be looking at a potentially years-long waiting period for a weak benefit that amounts to pennies on the dollar.

The NCAA doesn’t offer Loss-of-Value coverage (LOV) because the benefits have yet to be proved. Most players won’t even need to consider LOV coverage, but the NCAA recommends anyone expected to be in the top 10 of a draft make this a consideration. Those who are projected to be in the top 10 can guarantee an easy claim because the earnings they stand to be compensated for would be obvious.

The NCAA provides a certain amount of funding to schools dependent on need, but it’s up to the schools themselves to decide how to allocate those funds. That means some schools can and will give students a portion of the funding to purchase policies that exceed the required PTD insurance. These students should keep in mind that these policies are sometimes taxable — and the funds don’t cover those taxes. Students are responsible for Uncle Sam’s cut.

Before purchasing LOV coverage, students should shop around. Reading the fine print is as important as getting the best price. These types of coverage are sometimes negotiable — and this is a good time to practice your negotiating skills because you’ll be using them often in professional sports.