A prominent insurance broker whose clients include the NFL and Major League Baseball is rolling out a policy to cover college athletic departments if their athletes are hospitalized for COVID-19.
The insurance potentially covers some 450,000 athletes at more than 1,200 NCAA schools, although it’s unknown how many will purchase the policy. Some conferences canceled fall sports, while others are well into the football season.
The policy was delayed for months by behind-the-scenes drama. Alex Fairly, the broker who put together the deal, said one insurer dropped out on the eve of the college football season, citing “reputational risk.” Fairly wondered whether the company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, was concerned about the political sensitivities around playing sports in a pandemic, but that insurer this week said compliance concerns, not politics, scuttled the deal.
“I was stunned,” said Fairly, CEO of The Fairly Group in Amarillo, Texas. “It was the first time in my 25 years that a program which was agreed and bound was nixed 12 hours before it was to go live.”
Fairly eventually found another insurer, Berkley Accident & Health. The company is part of commercial insurance giant W.R. Berkley Corp. Another subsidiary, Berkley Entertainment & Sports, provides workers’ compensation insurance for NFL teams.
Susan M. Clarke, president of the Special Risk Division for Berkley Accident & Health, told ESPN: “I think we have all learned a lot about ourselves throughout the pandemic, and one of those things is the importance of sports. If we could help colleges mitigate the risk to help decide how to get student-athletes back playing safely, we were all-in.”
Athletic directors and conference commissioners interviewed by ESPN expressed interest in the coverage, which many had thought to be unobtainable because of the potential risks. The policy is available only to NCAA-member schools, meaning junior colleges and NAIA athletic programs are excluded. Schools have until Nov. 20 to enroll.
“We are in the process of closely reviewing and evaluating this policy,” said Baylor director of athletics Mack Rhoades. “Our intent, nonetheless, is obviously to provide the greatest standard of care and appropriate levels of coverage to all of our 500-plus student-athletes.” Fairly said he expected that the policy would be purchased primarily by Division II and Division III schools because they’re less able to afford the potential costs of an athlete getting seriously ill from the virus.
Reid Amos, commissioner of the Mountain East Conference, a collection of 12 Division II schools, predicted that if the cost of the insurance is affordable, many of the schools would consider it. The MEC