Past NCAA President Says Students Shouldn’t Receive Workers’ Comp


By Angela Underwood

National ( – In 2013, civil rights historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Taylor Branch brought up the matter of collegiate athletes receiving workers’ compensation.

One can assume: If it wasn’t for the teams, there wouldn’t be multi-million-dollar revenue for colleges across the nation. Taking this stance in a 2011 Atlantic report, Branch claimed the “NCAA’s ‘student-athlete’ regimen an outlier from any norm.”

“Its hybrid pretense harms athletes on both fronts, reducing them to jock status in academic life and pupil-serfdom in commercialized sports,” Branch wrote, immediately stirring up dust on the court. After the 2011 report ran, PBS interviewed Branch.

The very next day, the public broadcasting news center reached out to former National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) two-time president Joe Crowley, who served from 1993-1995. Setting up a phone call with Branch, Crowley claimed paying students would not make them amateurs in the PBS Interview, NewsHour.

He feels the same way today.

In an exclusive interview with, Crowley said students receiving workers’ compensation could negatively impact a college’s budget, scholarship availability and gender rights. But even more, it would snowball.

“What do you do with members of the rifle team. They are shooting and are capable of being injured, yet they bring in no money,” said Crowley, author of “In the Arena: The NCAA’s First Century.”

“There is no money made or tickets sold because there is no audience for rifling. Other organizations on the campus have students who are working without pay and without workers’ compensation, and they could begin to make the same case,” he said.

The 22-year president for the University of Nevada questions how students receiving workers’ compensation would affect gender equality. “The work we have done to build greater gender equality is still a major consideration in the athletic department,” Crowley said. “The female athletes have a right to the same kind of treatment that male athletes get, and most institutions by now have made that strong push in that direction.”

There is also no money to cover student athletes under workers’ compensation, according to Crowley. “For the entire history of intercollegiate activities, the academic side of the house has looked down on athletics, blaming them for taking money from facilities and scholarships that could be going to academic programs,” he said. “If paying athletes became a requirement and workers’ compensation surely a consequence of that, that is money out of the academic side of the house.”

But there is enough money for severe injuries, explained Crowley. He said since the NCAA became wealthier through television contracts, a fund was allotted for catastrophic injuries to student athletes. Bottom line: Paying athletes as employees runs the likelihood that many institutions would drop athletics, Crowley said.

“I don’t think Branch believes that,” Rod Rhem said. Lincoln, NE attorney Rhem of Rehm Bennett & Moore disagrees with the Crowley. Since posting a 2013 workers’ compensation blog about students receiving benefits, the longtime attorney has not changed his mind. Rhem said the colleges have become multimillion-dollar corporations, and the University of Nebraska has brought in “like a hundred million bucks,” filling up the constantly sold-out college stadium.

“They bring these kids in for free tuition, food and glory and a portion of them walk out crippled for the rest of their life. It is ridiculous and completely unfair,” Rhem said, adding other areas like Ohio, Alabama and Michigan have massive audience turnouts that ultimately cost the players. “All these kids just get beat up. A certain number of them will limp the rest of their life and get worse as they age and never get a dime for it except the education.”

Rhem said student athletes should be treated like employees, especially when it comes to injury. “I don’t think anything has been done since Taylor Branch’s article in the Atlantic. I am sure the NCAA knows the proportion of athletes that get injured and it’s not small,” he said. “I think it is as necessary as a reform now than it was when Branch wrote the article four years ago.”

But orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Fox out of Toms River, NJ, said no student should be considered an employee. “The NCAA and the college people, from what I understand of the 27 years I have been doing this, they are student athletes and they get treatment for free for their injury. But I don’t think they should be getting workers’ compensation,” he said.

The 2016 International Association of Orthopedic Surgeons inductee said since students are not working, “it is not a professional arrangement,” deleting the possibility of injury compensation. However, the surgeon does feel that if a settlement occurs, a capped award could be given for an injury.  

“If there is a brain injury and paralyzing, (it) should be paid by the school. I don’t think they necessarily should always be given a settlement, but all the medical bills should be taken care of by the school,” Dr. Fox said.

--- has reached out to Taylor Branch, civil rights historian and author, at Lyceum Agency for comment. The story will be updated if more details become available.

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