". . .It's going to cost him (Ralph Sampson) $500,000 to $600,000 to play college basketball for one more year. It's ridiculous. . .the big thing is the injury factor. He gets hurt and he doesn't get anything." -- Red Auerbach
Not if he has disability insurance, which is available through Lloyd's of London to undergraduate athletes who still have college eligibility. In the past, college athletes including David Thompson, Wally Walker, James Bailey, Brad Davis and John Lucas have purchased such insurance with one or more years of eligibility remaining. It is said that Joe Barry Carroll and Darrell Griffith held such policies while competing this season, and representatives for Sampson, Albert King and even Earl Jones, the Spingarn High School player, currently are inquiring as to how these players might purchase such insurance to protect themselves against crippling injury while they remain amateurs.
"I want it for Earl," said Doc Robinson, Jone's legal guardian. "I have a home valued at $70,000, and I may have to put it up as collateral to cosign the loan to pay the premiums, but Earl is going to have a separate disability policy before he goes to college."
"This kind of insurance takes away the danger in staying in college and not going hardship," said Terry Holland, Sampson's coach at the University of Virginia. "I'll assist Ralph in getting this insurance in any way I can as long as we stay within NCAA guidelines."
Two weeks before King made his decision to remain at the University of Maryland for his senior year he held an unsigned $500,000 disability policy in his hand, and his coach, Lefty Driesell, said, "If Albert couldn't get insurance, I'd have told him, 'Go pro.'"
Insurance from Lloyd's, written primarily by Robert H. Bradshaw of the Bradshaw Group, a worldwide insurance organization with offices in Toronto, New York and Bermuda, is available in large amounts for athletes of exceptional talent who are judged virtually certain to be extremely high draft choices in the pros. According to Dean Smith, basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, Phil Ford once looked at a policy for $2 million to protect him during a three-month period of all-star games in the spring of his senior year. "I think the premiums were $6,000 per month and the cost was prohibitive, Phil didn't buy it," said Smith. Jud Heathcote, basketball coach at Michigan State University, said Magic Johnnson would have had to pay $33,000 for one year of coverage worth $1.2 million and chose instead to go hardship. Holland has been told that a $1 million policy for Sampson would cost $17,875.
Clearly, the insurance provides a viable option to the athlete who may not want to go hardship but fears being left without pro earning power should he sustain a disabling injury in college. "It removes the disaster element," said Bill Packer, the NBC college basketball commentator who helped James Bailey to get such insurance, which was written by One Thirty Four Associates in Winston-Salem, N.C. "An athlete should only do it when it's clearly established he has professional worth -- five or six players a year are that good. People like Sampson and Mark Aguirre and Albert King ought to have it, and the NCAA should encourage them to get it. The NCAA should realize that keeping these kids in college is in its best interest." Packer said he has acted as an unpaid advisor to Lloyd's in determining the advisability of insuring certain undergraduate players.
Though some players get insurance while still eligible, others -- like Ford -- consider it after their eligibility is done, but before they sign with the pros to insure against injury in all-star or pickup games.
Butch Lee, in July 1978, paid $230 for one month's coverage at $500,000. Kyle Macy, according to his father, currently holds $500,000 worth of coverage, which will cost the elder Macy about $2,400 for two months. George Andrews, Magic Johnson's attorney, said that Johnson held a policy worth between $500,000 and $1 million for the period between May 11 and June 25 last -- year after declaring for the draft and before signing with the Lakers -- and paid between $1,500 and $3,000 for it.
Undergraduates in past years paid far less than that $17,875 figure for the $1 million quoted to Holland, but inflation has pushed the premiums way up. In 1974-75 David Thompson held a policy that "could have been worth $1 million, according to his business manager, Ted Shay. "I'm not trying to hedge, but it was so long ago. I think the cost was $5,000. David paid it with his signing bonus from Denver." The next year, with the help of the Washington law firm of Dell, Craighill, Fentress and Benton, Wally Walker took out a policy for $600,000 that cost about $1,200. "Portland drafted me after my senior year, and I think maybe they took care of the premium," Walker said.
Brad Davis took out his policy in September 1976, at the beginning of his junior year, and held it until March 1977. He said it was for $500,000 and it cost $2,000. Davis went for the pros later that year and signed with L.A. "I paid the premium with my bonus money," he said. James Bailey got his policy in 1978-79. File records show that Bailey's poicy was worth $300,000 and the premium was $6,358.80. "My father paid it," Bailey said.
According to Lefty Driesell, the Dell firm handled the policy John Lucas took out in 1975-76. The Dell firm arranged a similar insurance policy for Moses Malone, but when Malone chose to go to the pros instead of Maryland the policy was never effected. Driesell said he wants Albert King to purchase a disability insurance policy with the help of the Dell firm as well.
Almost without exception the disability insurance policies are made by The Bradshaw Group, which says it underwrites close to 80 percent of the sports insurance business in North America. The attorneys for Robert Bradshaw in the United States are Dell, Craighill, Fentress and Benton. "I completely trust Donald Dell," Bradshaw said last week. "If Donald Dell tells me it's six pounds of blue cheese, it's six pounds of blue cheese." dDonald Dell and one of his associates, Daivd Falk, each failed to honor commitments for interviews with The Washington Post last week to discuss this form of insurance.
This is the way the acquisition of the policies works: under NCAA rules no third party -- such as an alumnus or the university itself -- may purchase the insurance for the athlete. The athlete, or an immediate member of his family, may buy it. It is reasonable to suspect that in some cases, at these high premiums, a bank loan may be necessary to pay off the premium. In those cases, the bank pays off the insurance company, then holds the policy. If a claim is made for the insurance, the bank would get its money from the settlement before the athlete gets his share. If no claim is made, the athlete must pay off the loan (plus interest) when the note is due. Historically, the athlete uses the money from his pro contract to pay the note, but that is not written into the loan under normal circumstances.
It sounds foolproof.
It sounds great.
"The kid never touches the money," said Packer. "Both the bank and the insurance company are guaranteed. There's nothing illeal about it -- any student can buy insurance on himself -- and it keeps the kid in school. The kid arranges his own loan, so that keeps the unscrupulous agent away."
Curiously, however, hardly anyone in college basketball wants to talk about it. Some coaches say they never heard of it. Bobby Knight was one. Some coaches who have heard of it are cautious about discussing it with the press. Lee Rose, who coached Joe Barry Carroll at Purdue University, said, "Why are you asking me about this?. . .If I don't get burned, I'll buy you a damned steak." One coach whose athlete is reported to have the policy said he knew nothing about it. According to Bradshaw, there are two policies out on Darrell Griffith this year, "one that he took himself, and one by a third party." Denny Crum, Griffith's coach at the University of Louisville, said, "I have heard of it, but I didn't know Darrell had it. I think it's a great idea, but to my knowledge I've never had a player who had it." Griffith at first denied knowing about insurance. Then, when Lloy'd of London was mentioned, Griffith said, "Oh yeah, Lloyd's. I'll call you right back." That was last Thursday.
The caution with which these insurance policies are spoken of can be explained in four letters:
Nobody wants to violate the NCAA rules and risk the penalties of ineligibility for athlete and school.
"That's why Terry Holland and Gene Corrigan, the University of Virginia athletic director, are taking such care to make sure that any insurance policy Ralph Sampson acquires for himself will be allowable under NCAA rules. Holland, Corrigan and Sampson's mother, Sarah, want Sampson to be insured, but they want him to be eligible too.
Corrigan has already spoken to Robert James, the Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner, and the NCAA about the guidelines for an undergraduate athlete buying disability insurance. The assistant executive director of the NCAA, Bill Hunt, dictated an intepretation of Case Six -- the case pertaining to buying insurance -- to Corrigan's secretary within the last month.
The major question, according to David Berst, director of enforcement for the NCAAa, is, "Who's going to pay for the premium on the policy? It would not be permissible for some third person to pay the premium, nor would it be permissible for a young man to use his athletic reputation as a basis to obtain a bank loan for any purpose including the payment of a premium. If a young man cannot pay it on his own, but has to use his athletic reputation to secure funds, that would be illegal. That's using your athletic ability for pay."
So what it comes down to, in the event that neither the athlete nor the immediate family has enough cash to pay the premium or enough collateral to secure a bank loan, is this: Why would the bank lend the athlete the money?
"Obviously the primary reason would be on his athletic ability," said Morgan Wooten, coach of such players as Adrian Dantley, Kenny Carr and Hawkeye Whitney at De Matha High School.
"You borrow based on your payback ability as a pro," said Robert Bradshaw.
"It's the same as a third-year medical student borrowing money. You do it on the 'if-come.'"
"Do you think any banker in his right mind in Chicago wouldn't lend Mark Aguirre money? Be serious. These people are going to be millionaires. A banker wants that business. These people are the best risks in the country."
The NCAA says, of course, this is a no-no.
[WORDS OMITTED] the current handbook -- which defines this interpretation -- was adopted effective Jan. 1, 1975. That was after David Thompson bought his insurance. When Thompson bought his, there was no NCAA rule governing the guidelines by which an athlete could purchase disability insurance, so Thompson was within NCAA rules to use as collateral "his potential earning power," as Ted Shay said he did. Other athletes who buy the insurance say that Thompson gave them the impetus to do it.
After Jan. 1, 1975, anyone who bought idsability insurance through a bank loan conceivably could be guilty of an NCAA infraction, if that loan was made because of the potential professional salary pay-back, and, as any general manager in pro basketball will tell you, insurance costs are often negotiating points in contractual discussions. According to the New Jersey Nets, the club paid the premium on an insurance policy taken out by Calvin Natt covering the all-star game period last year. Natt was the Nets' first-round draft pick in 1979.
The NCAA interpretation is not one that everyone agrees with.
"If someone gets an athletic scholarship on the basis of his athletic ability, why can't you get a loan on that same basis?" asked Larry Fleisher, head of the NBA Players Association. "The payment isn't tied to a pro contract. A person could just as easily pay it out of some other kind of income. He could be a doctor. Or a salesman."
"It seems an obviously discriminatory rule," said Morga Wootten who believes in disability insurance and once advised Dantley to buy it, though Dantley declined because he couldn't afford the quoted $14,000 premium. "It clearly discriminates against disadvantaged families."
"I think the NCAA is full of --," said Packer. "How can they question why a bank gave a kid a loan? Any normal person can get a loan based on future earnings. Why can't an athlete?"
"The NCAA has no right to question a loan," said Rose. Rose is now coaching at the University of South Florida, but one of his players at Purdue last season, Joe Barry Carroll, is said to have bought disability insurance.
"If the bank loans the individual money, that's between the bank and the individual," said Robert James, commissioner of the ACC. "WeRe not privy to bank records. You tell me -- how can you tell? That's my interpretation. . . Reports in newspapers and magazines indicate that those who receive a college degree earn considerably more money than others. A bank might make a loan based on that."
The NCAA, however, stands firm.
Though it has no subpoena power and might have to ask an athlete for permission to question a loan officer, the NCAA would want to know why the money was lent. If it seems a discriminatory rule, the NCAA would argue that society is discriminatory, that poor people rarely get large loans for any reason. If it seems arbitrary that you can give an athletic scholarship based on athletic reputation, but you cannot get a loan on that basis, the NCAA would admit that it is arbitrary. "But we don't make the rules," said Stephen Morgan of the NCAA enforcement department. "The member schools make the rules. We interpret them and enforce them."
The NCAA said it had a four-year statute of limitation. It said it had received no complaints about misuse of disability insurance. It said it routinely looks into matters it thinks are worth looking into.
It said it would have no comment on any investigation. Past. Present. Or contemplated.
Wally Walker, drafted on the first round by Portland in 1976, bought the insurance "for peace of mind." He said that his father cosigned the loan to pay the premium because "I couldn't have qualified. I had zero collateral." Walker said Holland and Corrigan knew about it, but he never told other players because he "felt uncomfortable making my version of my market value public." Until last week when a reporter asked about the insurance, Walker didn't know that his teammate with Seattle, James Bailey, also had purchased disability insurance, nor did Bailey know about Walker.
Bailey, drafted on the first round by Seattle in 1979, said his father paid the premium. "I had no collateral other than my hopeful professional career," Bailey said. "I considered going hardship and the insurance was one of the things that helped a hell of a lot. I would've stayed anyway, but having the insurance made my decision a lot easier." Bailey said it took his insurance man, Abram Suydam of Somerset, N. J., almost a full summer to arrange the policy. Tom Young, Bailey's coach at Rutgers University, first suggested the insurance to Bailey, and Billy Packer first suggested it to Young. Young said he didn't recall if he had called either the NCAA or the commissioner of the Eastern Eight for permission. "I knew it was legal," Young said, "because James' father was paying for it. Our athletic director knew, and so did our school president. I wouldn't have done it if it would have jeopardized James or the school."
Brad Davis, drafted as a hardship case by Los Angeles on the first round in 1977, bought the insurance by himself. He was told about it by his coach at the University of Maryland, Lefty Driesell, and he knew that his teammate at Maryland, John Lucas -- himself the No. 1 NBA draft pick in 1976 -- had similar disability insurance. "I believe Lefty checked with the NCAA on it," Davis said. Driesell's expert on this kind of insurance is Donald Dell.
Some of the undergraduates who, by virtue of their ability, may have been most likely to have considered disability insurance this past season include Mike O'Koren of the University of North Carolina, Mike Gminski of Duke University, Darrell Griffith and Joe Barry Carroll. O'Koren was unreachable for comment, but his coach, Dean Smith, said no member of his team -- past or present -- ever had the insurance. Gminski said he didn't have the insurance, and his coach, Bill Foster (now at the University of South Carolina) said, "I told Mike at the beginning of the season that it was something we should look into. He was kind of noncommittal, and I wasn't pushing too hard because I had some questions about it myself -- was it legal as far as the NCAA was concerned?" Griffith is said to have the insurance; he neither confirmed nor denied the specific Lloyd's of London policy.
Carroll was unreachable for comment.
But those close to him, including people at Purdue University, the Big 10 commissioner's office and an insurance agent, seemed to indicate that Carroll at least considered buying the insurance.
Lee Rose, Carroll's coach at Purdue, would not confirm that Carroll held a policy, but said, "I played a limited part in it. I think any kid who wants it, you try to help -- just like if a kid came in and asked, "Where can I buy extra long pants?" You try and find an insurance agent, and you've got to make sure you check it with your athletic director and your league commissioner to make sure it's legal. If the commissioner gives you approval that's your bottom line."
In Carroll's case, the legue office did give permission. George S. King Jr., the athletic director at Purdue, has a letter on file from John Dewey of the Big 10 office stating that Carroll could buy disability insurance as long as he or a member of his immediate family took out a bank loan to pay the premium. That letter is dated Sept. 10, 1979.
"Lee Rose wrote me earlier that Joe Barry would personally borrow the money on his signature from a bank in West Lafayette, ind., to pay the premium," said Dewey. "The question was -- was it on his name to repay? Then, it's legitimate."
King did not know the worth of the policy that Carroll might have considered, but to the best of his recollection Carroll would have to borrow $25,000 to pay the premium. "As I understand it," King said, "It would be picked up by whatever team signed him. . . the basis for protection was the bank trusting he'd be signed. I'm comfortable in my mind we handled it right."
Tom King of Sequoia Associates in Knoxville, Tenn., is the insurance agent who sources say sold Carroll the policy. King would not confirm the sale.
He said, "I can't comment without my client's approval." But King said that such insurance was a boon to the athlete who didn't want to go hardship but wanted his established market value protected. King also said, "I am the only person that I know of who has waited for NCAA approval on this stuff."
The NCAA would want to know, of course, on what basis a bank loaned Carroll -- or any other athlete -- the money for the premium.
John Dewey said tht he got an interpettion from the NCAA that as long as the athlete took out the loan on his own signature, buying the insurance was permissable.
"I called Steve Morgan last summer, in July or August, and found ot the permissible guidelines, Dewey said.
Morgan, who keeps a detailed phone log for just this purpose, said he had a record of seven separate phone calls from Dewey during that period, but no notation of any query on disability insurance guidelines.
"That's strange," Morgan said. "What is it I allegedly said? I have no recollection of it."
Morgan then said that it was possible that the Dewey query was in general terms -- without the mention of Carroll's name. "It's conceivable," Morgan said, "that he just asked for general guidelines, that he asked -- 'Is it permissable to purchase disability insurance if the athlete buys it on his own?' With that scenario it's possible to get that interpretation. Then, if a person doesn't go to he NCAA manual, it might seem a simple guideline. But there is no question that if the loan is given on the basis of an athlete's athletic reputation -- no matter who signed the loan -- that it wouldn't be permissable under the rule."
Morgan said that the NCAA committee on infraction could review a matter like this. "The possible misunderstanding of the interpretation because of a commuinications mix-up might be a mitigating factor on any conceivable penalty," Morgan said, "but not on the fact of the violation." Morgan also said that the committee could find a violation and not impose a penalty. It should be understood that Morgan spoke hypothetically, that his comments were not directed toward Carroll, Purdue or the Big 10.
Dewey's position is similar to many in regard to this NCAA "pay-back position." Dewey asked, "How could you prove you got the money on your athletic ability?"
Rose took a similar position. "Who can go to a bank and question how you got a loan?" Rose asked rhetorically. "I don't think the NCAA can."
Historically, the undergraduate athlete with eligibility remaining who buys this insurance buys it for one year and then turns pro. Since the normal bank loan will not come due until one year after it has been issued, it may be a moot point whether the athlete signs for it himself under even the most approved conditions. By the time the loan comes due the athlete -- now a signed pro -- should easily have enough money to pay it, or he could have the money funnelled to him by any number of third parties, including an agent, an alumnus or a booster club. This seems so obvious a loophole that the NCAA could push Darryl Dawkins through it.
In the days and weeks before Ralph Sampson made his decsion to remain at the University of Virginia, Terry Holland was besieged by phone calls, some of which came from insurance agents wanting to sell Sampson disability insurance. The year before Jud Heathcote of Michigan State received a similar number of calls regarding Magic Johnson.
"I didn't call any of them back," Holland said. "This whole insurance thing made me a little nervous. If anyone spoke to me about it, I wanted them to send things to me in writing. I wanted details, and I wanted NCAA guidelines. I started thinking about our liability as a university. What if something happened to Ralph here? Would we be liable?"
Six years ago Lefty Driesell had similar thoughts when he recruited Moses Malone. "If he had come here I would have made sure he had insurance," Driesell said last week. "I wasn't going to have costing some kids hundreds of thousands of dollars on my head." Driesell may be a pioneer in this regard. He suggested insurance for Malone, Lucas and Davis, and he is suggesting it now for Albert King.
Then, of course, there is Sampson.
Had he chosen to turn pro this year je would have been the No. 1 draft choice. Certainly he has established market value, probably in the millions of dollars.
"He has to have insurance," said Holland. "We'll do it by the book, and it may be that his parents will have to sign the loan for him. But he has to have it."