Athletes hope power leagues pass medical coverage extension

BY AP • January 18, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Gymnast Taylor Ricci battled a litany of injuries during her time at Oregon State.

Like many athletes, she underwent surgery, needed MRIs and X-rays, and made many trips to the doctor. Now that her athletic career is over, she also knows the university will cover any additional medical expenses for those injuries an additional four years, thanks to a Pac-12 rule passed in October 2014.

Ricci is spending this week in Indianapolis at the NCAA's annual convention, lobbying all Power Five conferences to approve similar legislation Friday.

''It's pivotal to student-athlete wellness,'' Ricci said Thursday after speaking at an open hearing on the proposal. ''To not have to worry about those injuries being taken care of is huge. It's huge for the athlete, huge for the parents, huge for the families.''

The proposal would require coverage to be extended for at least two years after an athlete leaves campus and would apply only to schools in the five richest leagues: the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Conference and Southeastern. Most of those conference members already have some form of extended insurance in place.

Schools could establish their own coverage policies and would still be able to provide whatever treatments they choose. But no medical condition could be excluded.

Passage requires 60 percent of all votes (48 of 80) and a majority in three of the five leagues or a majority of all votes (41 of 80) and majority support in four of five conferences.

If the Division I autonomy conferences approve the legislation, other leagues could follow their lead. While some might, others could find it too costly to adopt the extension even for two years.

Athletes like Ricci and Enna Selmanovic, who serve on the 32-member Student Athlete Advisory Committee, believe schools should do more to help athletes after they leave campus. Selmanovic's swimming career at Cincinnati ended because of a broken back.

''It's always important to take care of athletes, no matter what you do,'' she said, even though the vote would have no immediate impact on her school, which competes in the American Athletic Conference. ''I think it is time. We're trying to develop and start life after college as well.''

The legislation also would cover mental health, a topic that has loomed large over the convention that started less than 24 hours after the public learned 21-year-old Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead in his Pullman, Washington, apartment of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A previously scheduled, four-hour panel discussion on student-athlete well-being took place Wednesday with a large portion focusing on early intervention to help prevent suicides. Ricci and a men's soccer player at Oregon State also kicked off an awareness campaign Wednesday on campus called (hash)DamWorthIt.

''It was not a result of what happened, it was a planned date,'' Ricci said. ''But both of us, within 14 months, experienced a teammate who had committed suicide. Tonight is the launch of (hash)DamWorthIt games and every team on campus will have one. Mental health is the exact same as physical health.''

And if the legislation passes Friday, athletes leaving campus could find they'll have more coverage for both.

''Any way to take care of the athlete after they're done, I'm for,'' Selmanovic said. ''I'm doing much better now because I got the care that I needed then.''

Other proposals include allowing ice hockey players to be represented by agents without jeopardizing their eligibility; expanding benefits for hosts on recruiting visits; increasing from $100 to $200 that require restitution for improper benefits; and a required three-day break for men's basketball teams during the Christmas holiday.

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