How Kevin Ware’s Student-Athlete Status Costs Him $40,000

If Kevin Ware were a regular employee, he could be entitled to thousands of dollars in worker’s compensation for his injury.

University of Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware’s horrific leg injury may keep him out of basketball for at least a year. If he were an employee of almost any other moneymaking enterprise in the state of Kentucky, he’d be entitled to workers’ compensation for the time he didn’t work. But because he’s a student-athlete, he gets zero.

Workers’ compensation [PDF] in Kentucky is based on the employee’s average weekly wage. Ware doesn’t make a wage, per se — that’s another feature of being a student-athlete. But researchers at Drexel University estimated [PDF] the fair market value of college players, based on how much they could make professionally; they estimated a University of Louisville basketball player’s market value for 2011-2012 at $1,632,103. An employee making that much in Kentucky would run up against worker’s comp maximums, which are pegged to the state’s average weekly wage. If that employee were totally disabled for a year from an on-the-job injury, he or she would get $39,139.88.

Workers’ compensation benefits are paid by employers themselves. But NCAA colleges and universities have argued in court that their players are “student-athletes,” not employees — so when they’re injured, the schools don’t have to pay.

Ware does get to keep his scholarship, which covers most (though not necessarily all, according to the Drexel researchers) of the cost of attending Louisville. But he’ll still be incapacitated for a big chunk of time at an important period for the development a young basketball player. While he’s not a top NBA prospect, such a future is not out of the question, and top Division I players of his ilk often go on to earn good wages overseas even if the NBA is unattainable. But any attempt by Ware to make it in the pros will be made more difficult by the time he’s losing to injury, not to mention its potential lingering physical effects, and for that he won’t be compensated at all.

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