Ducks guard Te-Hina PaoPao (12) and forward Sedona Prince (32) dive for ball. Ducks women's basketball takes on University of Arizona at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore., on Feb. 8, 2021. (DL Young/Emerald)

College athletics have long been tainted by the reign of the NCAA. Its rules and regulations rarely support its most important ‘commodities’, the student athletes themselves. Change is undoubtedly on the horizon, but the NCAA’s long-standing refusal to revolutionize its authoritative tactics indicates that overdue, widespread changes are still several years out. 

Health insurance is a primary issue hampering the NCAA’s service collegiate athletes. The NCAA generates $1 billion annually, yet does not provide proper health insurance to athletes, nor does it require schools to do so. As a consequence of this policy, student athletes are condemned to medical debt stemming from sports-related injuries. The NCAA must completely revamp its health insurance policies immediately to support the individuals that allow the organization to exist and rake in over a billion dollars annually. 

Oregon women’s basketball star Sedona Prince story embodies key issues that plague the NCAA. Prince began her career at the University of Texas. Her freshman campaign in Austin was marred by injuries and neglect from the Longhorns and NCAA alike. Prince and her family found themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt due to restrictive health insurance regulations. Since Prince injured her leg playing for Team USA Basketball, the national team was technically responsible for covering secondary emergency medical care. Yet, the Texas athletic department rakes in over $200 million annually. At the same time, Texas informed the Prince family that Team USA and their family health insurance must cover costs. None of the payment structure was explained during Prince’s recruitment process. Between medical debt, rushed rehabilitations and poor medical advice from team doctors, Prince made the difficult decision to transfer to UO. Shortly after her arrival in Eugene, Prince discovered that her petition to waive the mandatory full academic-year waiting period was rejected. On top of recovering from devastating injuries, her move to transfer to UO after a nightmare year in Texas made Prince wait an extra year to advance her career.

Comprehensive health insurance must be provided by the NCAA to ensure the fair treatment of unsalaried athletes. The NCAA requires colleges and universities to ensure that their players have personal medical insurance prior to allowing them to participate. The top talents in collegiate sports often receive full academic or athletic scholarships, yet member schools are not required to offer health insurance to their athletes. Some schools do pay the bills of their athletes, but the NCAA’s policy decision not to require it reflects an unethical preference for athletic department bottom lines over athlete well-being. These unjust rules result in athletes paying out of pocket for various injury-related costs. Athletes can apply for coverage in certain situations, but the permissible circumstances are minimal. Between the 2009-10 and 2013-14 academic years, the CDC reported an estimated 1,053,73 sports-related injuries among collegiate athletes. The odds of an athlete sustaining some degree of injury during their college tenure are astronomically high. The NCAA puts players at risk of accumulating enormous debt from unpaid competition and work that makes them hundreds of millions of dollars annually. 

Related: “Opinion: UO EMERGEs as a leader in student-athlete brand management

The arrival of name, image and likeness rule changes will alter the landscape of collegiate athletics. But, further player support in the form of comprehensive health insurance is painfully crucial to the future of college athletics. 

Bazil is a columnist for the Emerald’s opinion desk. He specializes in sports discourse and reminding you that athletics matter more than your education. Follow his Twitter @razzle_bazil