As Jake Butt prepared for Michigan's Capital One Orange Bowl game, the All-American tight end was asked by reporters about potentially skipping the final game of his career. The two-loss Wolverines were set to play Florida State in a game that had no playoff or championship ramifications and no real benefit to Butt's draft stock.
Not wanting to risk injury, running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey both announced they would be sitting out their bowl games, and Butt, the projected top tight end prospect in the 2017 NFL draft, could have followed suit.
Butt shrugged off the notion that he would skip his final game and played, hoping to help Michigan to a win in his last chance to wear the winged helmet. In the second quarter, after catching a pass near the sideline, Butt was tackled and tore his ACL, ending his Michigan career while suffering a second knee injury in college.
"Honestly, I didn't play in that bowl game because I thought I would make more money, and I didn't have a fear of losing any money," Butt said. "For me, I wanted to play in that bowl game because I'm very goal-oriented and a goal of mine was to win a national championship. We didn't get to do that, but that was a pretty damn big bowl game, so I was playing in that game no matter what."
Butt had a lack of fear because he had taken out a loss-of-value insurance policy to protect against this very situation. Butt was part of a growing trend in college football that top NFL draft prospects and college programs are taking advantage of, hoping to keep the players on the field without worry of injury and potentially in school for an extra season.
It's a trend that is all the more relevant after the opening weekend of the 2017 season. Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the season with a patella injury and Georgia's Jacob Eason is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
This type of insurance is nothing new, the task of an athlete finding out just what his body is worth, and insurers assigning policies can both be daunting.
When and his family decided he would return to Ann Arbor, they wanted it to be with an insurance policy to cover him in case of an injury.
"I wanted to get it in place before spring ball or shortly after it started," Butt said. "We looked at a few different places, like any good negotiations, you want to have a few options and contracts."
And according to insurance professionals, these policies are becoming popular.
Eric Chenowith, an insurance producer for Parq Advisors, is a former NBA player who is now heavily involved in producing insurance policies for athletes. While he was not involved with Butt's policy, and cannot speak specifically to Butt's case, he has dealt with plenty other athletes and their insurance policies.
Chenowith said the policies are really only necessary and of value to college players who will be selected in the first 45 picks of the NFL draft because of rookie salaries. The loss of value insurance that protects the players from injuries is actually a rider, or add -on, to a permanent total disability insurance policy. A player cannot have just a loss of value policy, so, to protect in case of a catastrophic injury, they have to purchase the permanent total disability policy and add the loss of value to protection.
"When it comes to underwriting a policy, every case needs to be built from the ground up where I present a case to the underwriters why an individual needs coverage," Chenowith said. "We need to build a case saying how much coverage and if he's a permanent total disability guy, a PTD plus LOV guy. We build it from the ground up with the underwriters and it's my job to give them as much information as possible and it's their job to keep me accountable."
Once a college program or athlete contacts Chenowith, he and his coworkers names of college football players they think will be within the top 90 or 100 picks in the upcoming draft. They look at the past three drafts and assess what positions are premium positions and typically drafted within the first rounds.
Certain positions are valued higher within the NFL and Chenowith and his team can identify trends to separate top prospects. They then rank the players out in the top 15, the top 30, 45, 60 and 90.
"So if a school emails me and says we have a guy on campus, we think he's going to be a top pick, let us know what you can do for him," Chenowith said. "I'll build a case and research the market. Say he's a left tackle, left tackles are going in the first round, so who are the other left tackles?
"Is he a true junior, a senior, a redshirt senior? You figure out all this information, then we'll call the underwriter and say we see this guy as a top-20 pick, or a top-30 pick."
According to industry professionals, the general rule is that a top-10 pick will qualify for $10 million of permanent total disability with a $5 million loss-of-value rider. The 10 to 20 picks would be looking at $5 to $7.5 million of PTD and $2 to $3 million in loss of value. Picks in the 20 to 30 pick range would be around $5 million total disability.
While Francois and Eason are too early in their careers to have true draft grades, top quarterbacks do make prime candidates for these policies.
This season, Wyoming QB Josh Allen, has been projected as a first-round draft pick and would be someone who could benefit from this type of policy. While Wyoming can't comment on whether Allen has pursued a policy, Wyoming associate athletic director Phil Wille said the involvement their institution would have in that process would be to ensure the NCAA rules are met for their student-athlete.
There are NCAA rules that allow athletics department officials to help secure policies and there are also funds available at each university that can be used to pay for the insurance policies if the programs want to allocate money for that purpose.
The student assistance fund is money provided to every university by the NCAA that can be used for a variety of scenarios to help student-athletes financially for everything from travel for funerals to formula for babies. The NCAA allows universities to pay for the insurance policies out of this fund, but not every university chooses to do so. Texas A&M, for example, paid $50,000 from this fund to help offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi secure insurance. Butt and his family secured loans to pay for the premium instead of using the student assistance fund at Michigan.
"It's subject to institutional and conference-level parameters," Wille said. "The Mountain West conference doesn't have a cap, so we could provide for that premium for the student in full if we wanted to."
Universities, coaches and athletic directors are hoping these policies, as they become more and more popular, will give their student athletes more options and less fear of injury. It might help keep the best players on the field late in the season similar to Butt playing in the Orange Bowl.
Jack Miller, who played offensive line at Michigan, is now a client executive producer for The Hylant Group in Toledo, Ohio, producing insurance policies for athletes. Miller wants to see it become a better option for the school and the player.
"They're protecting the player who is worth money, who deserves to be protected for wanting to go back to school and finish his education," Miller said. "Also, they're good for the universities because they're another tool for the universities to take care of their players. Nobody wants to see the best players sit out bowl games, so this is a way to insure against that and tell a kid you have a safety net."
It's not a full guarantee, though, so there could still be some doubt from players. The policies are meant to help protect from injury, but do not fully cover 100 percent of the loss if the athlete drops in the draft due to injury.
The policies aren't meant to completely indemnify the prospects, but rather provide partial financial compensation from the injury.
Whether it keeps an All-American like Butt in his bowl game or gives up-and-coming players like Francois, Eason or the next player to suffer a big injury some piece of mind, the policies are likely to become more widespread. And from the insurers, the players will at least know what their athletic ability is really worth.
"It's very important to remember that the threshold is 40 percent below their projected earnings," Chenowith said. "If we have a consensus that you're the No. 1 quarterback in the country and the No. 1 quarterback is projected at $10 million over four years, your threshold will be $6 million over four years, which is 40 percent below."