Tag Archives: student-athletes

The surprising history of student-athletes and workers’ comp (Part 2)

In a post last week I mentioned a fascinating recent article in The Atlantic magazine on the history and often hypocrisy of the NCAA revealed the role workers’ comp played in the history of college athletics. As it turns out, the term “student-athlete” came into play in the 1950s when the widow of a student who died playing football in Colorado for the Fort Louis A&M Aggies brought a worker’s compensation claim for death benefits. Part of the ruling was based on the argument that, “the college did not receive a direct benefit,” from the athletic program – a description that would be difficult to use today.

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law,the value of an employee’s meals and lodging expenses become part of their average weekly wage for purposes of compensation. These items are provided to scholarship collegiate athletes, in addition to their paid tuition.

While some may see the term “student-athlete” as having a paternalistic or even sentimental notion, the nature of modern collegiate athletics suggest otherwise. With mega-deal television contracts, huge endorsement deals with corporate sponsors, ticket sales, concessions, and host of other profit-making ventures, the fact that student-athletes cannot receive compensation can appear hypocritical on the surface. (A counter-point response, however, is that such compensation may not be feasible, given the amount of money an athletic department and university must spend to maintain and upgrade all of their athletic teams and facilities).

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, the value of an employee’s meals and lodging expenses become part of their average weekly wage for purposes of compensation. These items are provided to scholarship collegiate athletes, in addition to their paid tuition. Given the money generated by these athletes for the university and their receipt of these “things of value,” a viable argument exists for worker’s compensation benefits for injured student athletes.

In The Atlantic, Continue reading

The surprising history of student-athletes and workers’ comp (Part 1)

The term “student-athlete” has a surprising history

In Taylor Branch’s fascinating article, “The Shame of College Sports,” in September’s The Atlantic magazine on the history and often hypocrisy of the NCAA, acclaimed author Taylor Branch reveals an unexpected reason behind the usage of the term “student–athlete”: avoiding worker’s compensation liability.

Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.

Collegiate athletes certainly suffer injuries during their playing careers on campus. Many of these athletes receive items of value from the university, in the form of scholarships, lodging, meals, athletic gear, etc, which, if they were called “employees,” would be part of their wages for worker’s compensation purposes. Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.

According to Mr. Branch, the term “student-athlete” came into play in the 1950s when the widow of a student who died playing football in Colorado for the Fort Louis A&M Aggies brought a worker’s compensation claim for death benefits. The Colorado Supreme Court, agreed with the college that the student was not an employee at the time of injury, using the following interesting language (ironic in the big business of current revenue-driven college athletics):

“It is significant that the college did not receive a direct benefit from the activities, since the college was not in the football business and received no benefit from the field of recreation. In fact, the state conducted institution, supported by taxpayers, could not as a matter of business enter into the maintenance of a football team for the purpose of making a profit directly or indirectly out of the taxpayers’ money.” (State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Industrial Commission, 135 Colo. 570, 314 P.2d 288 (1957))

Wow. A court may have some difficulty using those words in today’s atmosphere. Regardless, Branch’s article detailed how, since that ruling, the NCAA has continued to use the term “student-athlete” as a shield.

Check back with us on Monday to find what Wisconsin workers’ compensation law can tell us about this issue.