A jury just found University of Central Florida negligent in the 2008 spring practice death of football “student-athlete” Erik Plancher. The school had failed to test for sickle-cell anemia (a disorder with high frequency in blacks, which can weaken the heart); in addition, it appears that the jury was persuaded by heavy-handed conditioning practices used by UCF George O’Leary, with some trial testimony showing that he and/or his coaches had insisted that Plancher get up and “keep going” after he first collapsed.
The story is tragic. Had Plancher been deemed an employee under the state’s Workers’ Compensation law, his survivor benefits would have been capped, and there would have been no need for expensive litigation as to whether the activity on-field had “caused” the heart failure which brought death. That’s one glaring issue.
But the case is perhaps more significant, in light of all the high-minded blather we hear from the NCAA and its’ coaches about their alleged “primary” focus on the “welfare of our student-athletes.” Does this verdict interest the NCAA at all? Will they do anything about it? Will they do their own investigation? As the ruling “trade organization,” will they initiate and adopt new By Laws which control the activities of players and coaches to avoid these kinds of unnecessary deaths?
The answers to these questions are all, most likely, NO. The NCAA likes to dither around with silly little tussles about whether players sold trinkets, or got money for meals, or received phone calls at the wrong time of the year. The NCAA’s actual concern for the “welfare” of student athletes is superficial, and avoids these kinds of life and death issues. One more whiff by the NCAA.