If you don't think that the concussion lawsuits filed against the National Football League have any potential impact on youth and collegiate sports, think again.
Regardless of the outcome of said lawsuits, the insurance implications alone could be enough to affect schools, according to a report this week from The New York Times.
At this point, thousands of former NFL players have filed lawsuits alleging that the league intentionally hid information linking football-related head trauma and long-term brain damage. A similar class action was filed against the NCAA in September 2011, alleging that the organization failed to adequately protect student-athletes from concussions.
Even if the NCAA and NFL get off scot-free, insurers could decide to raise premiums "to compensate for the increased risk of lawsuits," according to The Times. The NFL and the $9 billion of revenue per year it generates will be much better equipped to weather the storm than local high schools, many of which are already dealing with strained budgets.
Schools wouldn't have many great options available if insurers do decide to raise premiums. They could raise participation fees, require players to waive their right to sue their coaches and their schools, or shut down contact sports such as football altogether.
"Insurers will be tightening up their own coverage and make sports more expensive," said Robert Boland, a professor of sports law at New York University, to the paper. "It could make the sustainability of certain sports a real issue."
Keep in mind, this might not be limited just to football. Insurers could exclude concussions from their policies for other contact sports, including hockey and lacrosse, The Times reports.
"The handwriting is on the wall, there's no question," said John Kircher, a professor of law at Marquette University, to the paper. "Insurers will look at the dangers and might look at increasing premiums, and the insurers and the insured will ask whether the game is worth a candle."
Granted, the concussion lawsuits against the NFL could take years to legislate, according to ESPN.com's Lester Munson. Parents interested in similar lawsuits against their child's school or youth league may also have difficulty proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the school or league intentionally hid information about concussions, as the former NFL players are attempting to show.
In fact, many states' youth-concussion laws now require schools to provide a concussion information form to the parents and guardians of student-athletes before the start of a sports season. A parent or guardian of each student-athlete must sign the form before the student-athlete is allowed to participate in either practices or competition. However, few states' laws expand past school sports to cover youth-sports leagues such as Pop Warner or Little League.
Still, if the courts rule in favor of the plaintiffs in either the cases against the NFL or NCAA, skyrocketing insurance premiums might not be far behind.
If that does come to fruition, schools short on cash could find that the cost of fielding a football team has become too prohibitive to bear.
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