Leonard Fournette's $10M policies and the unregulated world of player protection
All eyes will be on LSU's Leonard Fournette as he runs through college football in 2016. Should he stumble, adjusters will look for ways to run through his insurance policies.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Leonard Fournette wasn't comfortable when confronted with his athletic mortality.
Did it ever cross his mind -- LSU's junior tailback was asked recently -- that his talents are insured by two policies, each worth $10 million? Those policies are believed to make him one of the most heavily insured players in college sports history.
"I don't think about it," Fournette told CBS Sports. "This is the second time I'm actually talking about it. I leave everything in God's hands."
In the largely unregulated world of disability insurance for college players, God might be the best option if Fournette is ever seriously injured.
It doesn't necessarily matter if the rising junior tailback is a man playing a kid's game. Or that he is projected as a high first-round draft choice in 2017. It could all go away with one unfortunate injury.
Fournette needs to know it has become common practice for the game's best players to purchase disability insurance. The policies bought by his parents cover him for $10 million in total disability in the event of a career-ending injury and $10 million for circumstances that would lead to him falling from his projected NFL draft spot.
These days, you cannot typically purchase one without the other even if you wanted to. And when premiums run approximately $8,000 per $1 million of coverage, there's a lot of money going around even if the covered player finishes his career with no more than a hangnail.
There are sales commissions to be made.
"The industry suffers from no regulation whatsoever," said personal injury attorney Bryan Fisher. "The consumer is being exploited."
Fisher sees himself as a reformer. His Baton Rouge office is a short drive from LSU's Tiger Stadium. He considers Les Miles and other LSU officials respected acquaintances. Representing players with legal challenges against insurance companies that don't pay up is side work.
Fisher does it more out of moral conscience than profit. LSU, he says, is one of the good ones. The school genuinely cares and offers guidance when players and families go looking for insurance.
When Fournette wanted his policy to kick in at the start of this year's spring practice, an adjustment was made and off he went. But Fisher keeps close a file of budding cases from Auburn, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC. All of them, Fischer contends, have misled players on insurance policies.
"Multiple players at each school," Fisher said. "Every one of them has an injury that eliminated their draft prospects or lessened their draft prospects."
Fisher is not providing details. Not yet. He is too busy as one of the loudest critics of players being preyed upon by insurance companies and misled by their schools.
"LSU is the unusual school," he said. "Hands off. Don't give advice on something you don't know anything about."
Typically, insurance applications are handed over to a school's compliance department. That's great if compliance is vetting a bank loan as it relates to NCAA bylaws. But reading an insurance policy?
The proof is in the numbers. The NCAA began sponsoring career-ending insurance in 1990. In the 26-year existence of what is now called Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance, only a handful of athletes have ever collected.
"Total disability?" asked Juanita Sheely, the NCAA's director of travel and insurance. "More than two and less than a dozen [have been paid] that I know of."
Projected out since 1990, that's approximately 2,000 policyholders. The number of claims is unknown, according the NCAA.
Is that miniscule rate worth tens of thousands of dollars in premiums?
What is commonly called Loss of Draft Value insurance (LOV) has sprung up in the industry as an insurance rider. It is not overseen by the NCAA. It is more an organic evolution of the insurance market to sell more policies.
Only two players have collected on one of those policies. Former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was the latest back in October.
"There's so much [insurance] out there that's being written," Sheely said. "Quite honestly, loss of draft value, some of those policies are not worth the paper they're written on."
Fournette and his family don't want to think of a worst-case scenario. In the event of career-ending injury, he'd run into the same issues involved in any insurance claim.
Different policies say different things about what triggers a payout. The government is overthrown? You can't collect. Nuclear explosion? Same thing.
Sounds silly ... until you try to collect. You're probably aware insurance companies aren't necessarily in the business of paying you money.
"You son of a [expletive], you had cancer," Fisher said mimicking an insurance carrier reaction to a pre-existing condition, "and you didn't tell us."
When Breslin filed a claim, the insurance company sued him in New Jersey -- a state with insurance-friendly laws. Fisher was successful in moving the case to California before the two sides settled. Breslin is still pursuing action against USC.
"The insurance company is going to fight you," Fisher said. "When they fight you, it's going to cost you money.
"I've reviewed [Fournette's] policy. [Based on history], they're not going to pay $10 million without a fight."
Fournette might also want to pay attention of the case of Marqise Lee, Breslin's former teammate. Lee sued Lloyd's of London -- the prominent underwriter in the industry -- when it didn't pay out on an LOV claim last year.
After hurting his knee, the former USC receiver slipped from the first round to the second in 2014.
Players don't have to go through the NCAA to get the insurance. In fact, one source said former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell had a $20 million policy while in college.
The number of players rated for insurance has skyrocketed. Part of it is protection; part of is, well, swag. For the top players, it's good for their "look" to have expensive insurance. It's a sign of prosperity.
"Now," said Jeff Hawkins, senior associate athletic director at Oregon, "you're talking about a feeding frenzy."
The NCAA allows players to borrow against their future earnings for both total disability and LOV premiums. The market dictates they have to be projected/rated in the top three rounds of the draft. That rating is arrived at by a mutually agreed to set of outside sources (NFL general managers, scouts, etc.).
That makes it possible for there to be more players insured in that space than there are draft slots.
"This insurance thing is a racket," said a prominent Power Five coach who did not want to be identified.
Where's the regulation? The NCAA is not the policyholder in total disability. That's usually a subsidiary of Lloyd's, the 328-year old specialty insurance firm that became a leader in maritime insurance.
The NCAA does not pay claims. It is a facilitator, a gateway allowing the membership such insurance.
"Disability insurance is like being struck by lightning," said Alabama's Nick Saban. "I tell our guys, 'This is something you should get, but let's don't overcook it.'"
Players can only collect on total disability due to accident, injury or illness. "Single discreet injuries," Fisher called them. But that's where it gets sticky. Anyone who's ever had an insurance policy knows the carrier can haggle over the definition of an accident, injury or illness.
"If you've played football for 15 years, you've got a [injury] history," Fisher said.
If you've seen those ads with wacky Flo or a Cockney-accented lizard, the image is clear. Sometimes the industry conjures up more cartoons than confidence.
Anyone can sell insurance.
"It takes very, very little in most states to become an agent," Fisher said.
Check your home insurance. A flood or earthquake or fire isn't likely, but you only need that type of insurance when you need it. And that's over the course of a 30-year mortgage.
College football underclassmen are usually covered from the beginning of spring practice of their junior year to the end of their college careers. Is that worth an $80,000 premium?
"I talked to a financial advisor in the NFL," recalled Hawkins, a leading reformer himself. "How much money is enough? His answer was, 'When you got to Vegas, how much money do you expect to lose?'
"Quite honestly, there are too many creatures out there. Without the name, I had one guy who did a policy. He told my player, 'You're going to be picked 26th in the first round.'
"My kid came back and told me. How could he [insurance rep] know that?"
In the last three years, schools have been taking advantage of what amounts to a loophole in NCAA rules. Florida State, Oregon, Texas A&M and others have been using money from the NCAA's Student Assistance Fund to pay for premiums.
That fund is typically in the $300,000-350,000 range per school. Is it fair to every other scholarship athlete for the athletic department to spend $60,000 of that on one football player? That was the reported amount of Jameis Winston's premium at Florida State.
"I'm not comfortable having the Student Assistance Fund used for those things," said Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner and chairman of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee. "It's a very large premium, typically, and it takes away from other kids."
Schools can sell all of it in recruiting: Hey, sign with us. We not only can get you to the NFL, we can get you free insurance when you get close to it.
"Pretty soon, they're going to be rating a five-star in high school [for insurance]," Saban said.
For Hawkins, it comes down to numbers.
"There are more bad guys out there than there are good guys," Hawkins writes in an elaborate PowerPoint he presented to all draft-eligible Oregon players.
Agent laws have been passed in 43 states. That includes your average insurance salesman who seeks to make commission (money) off a player. Hawkins has no problem calling these guys "runners," just like those that work for agents.
"One compliance person, he got unsolicited a quote for every single student athlete on his team, which is insane," Sheely said.
"Anyone who is writing a policy for a third-string kicker doesn't know what they're doing."
Apparently, it's happening without proper regulation. Insurance laws and regulations vary from state to state.
"There's a lot of these loss of draft value policies being written right now. There's no way they would ever pay," Sheely said.
Oregon might have the best support systems in the country. In evaluating his professional prospects, a draft-eligible Oregon player has access to 12 persons from the school including a behavioral therapist and law professor.
"It's fear that people buy this insurance. I even question this long-term disability insurance. It's all based upon the preying upon people's fear," Hawkins said.
The market shifted four years ago when South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore purchased a $1.7 million disability policy. Two major knee injuries later, Lattimore dropped from the first round to the fourth.
"Marcus Lattimore was the Leonard Fournette of his time," said Ronnie Kaymore, the agent who sold the LSU tailback his insurance.
"Because of those two injuries, Marcus is retired NFL player."
Kaymore Sports Risk Management and Consulting is a leader in the industry. Kaymore, who entered the NFL as a junior without ever having played at Washington State, has been in this space since 2009.
He's got a reputation -- a good one. In the last three years, Kaymore claims to have signed about 25 first-round picks to insurance policies.
"In my opinion, [the system is] highly regulated," Kaymore said.
Check with UCLA's Myles Jack at some point. He may be the next player to collect on a LOV claim. The Bruins' linebacker dropped from the early first to early second round of the draft because of a season-ending knee injury that occurred early last season.
Fournette is oblivious of all of it. He's a man playing a kid's game. he has a young daughter. His parents took out loans to pay the premiums that basically protect their son's career. There are bigger things to worry about than not getting to New York last year as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
"I done been through situations 10 times worse than that," he said.
"At times, it does get overwhelming. It comes with the territory, the job. I don't want to be [perceived] as too arrogant, bold. Nowadays you have everything handed to you."
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