Serious injuries are an all too common occurrence in collegiate athletics. For the unlucky athletes who suffer from these type of setbacks, there is a way to gain back a season of participation through a medical hardship.
A hardship waiver can be granted if a season-ending illness or injury occurs and meets a set of conditions laid out by the MIAC. These include that: the injury be an incapacitating injury or illness which occurs in the first half of the season, and it must occur before a student athlete has competed in a third of the competitions or games.
Concordia’s Associate Athletic Director and NCAA Compliance officer, Rachel Bergeson, sees a handful of these every season. Fall student athletes apply for the hardship more often than spring athletes because they would only need to come back for an extra semester; whereas the spring season would require another full year.
“I encourage them [injured student athletes] to fill it out and apply for it, get it granted even if they don’t know for sure if they are going to use it, simply because all their medical documents are easy to get at that point and they’re handy,” Bergeson said. “Whereas if you wait three years and you realize, ‘Oh I think I want to get that year back my freshman year.’ We can do that; it’s just sometimes harder to get a hold of those notes.”
If the illness or injury happens and meets those conditions, there is a process to getting a hardship granted. There are required paperwork and forms that an athlete needs to have filled out from the training staff, physicians, coaches, and also proper medical documentation. Once Bergeson receives all the necessary information, she sends everything to the conference office, which decides whether to grant the hardship for the injured athlete.
“Typically, if it leaves my office it’s going be granted because I try to make sure we have all our ducks in a row, so for it to not be granted would be kind of a surprise for me,” Bergeson said.
It is not an automatic process. Even if it meets the criteria, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be guaranteed.
“Our conference is actually more strict in regards to the medical hardship bylaw. What the NCAA says is your injury needs to be incapacitating to compete, so you could still practice with your team. So you could train with your team, but you just can’t compete. But, our conference says you can’t compete or practice with the team once your injury has happened,” she said.
Sophomore Jessica Scherr suffered a knee injury during preseason for soccer this fall. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, partially tore her medial collateral ligament, or MCL, and scratched her meniscus.
“I talked to Rachel about possibly getting a hardship and she sent me the information. I just had to fill it out and I just had to make sure it was legit, like I could not play,” Scherr said.
Scherr had successful surgery and is already starting on her rehab. She is unsure if she is going to use her season of eligibility.
“I’m going to continue on with my educational timeline, but if it does happen that I need a few more credits or something, I still have the option to play another year,” she said. “It’s really nice because that last year I can spend doing what I love, which is playing soccer with the team.”
The athletic training staff plays a role in this process as well. This includes assessing the injury, getting a referral to a doctor, and keeping accurate documentation.
“That’s the worst part about this job is telling someone that their season is over,” Scott Allen, a trainer from the athletic department, said. “But it is nice that they have that option to get a season back.”
Teams have meetings with Bergeson which go over medical hardships and the proper way to go about them.
“Often times it will be our training staff that will tell them, ‘Hey why don’t you go talk to Rachel and see if medical hardship is an option’. Their coach has done that before too,” Bergeson said.
The illness or injury does not have to be specific to a student-athlete’s particular sport either. Bergeson once had a situation where an athlete was diagnosed with cancer and had to start treatment immediately. They were granted a medical hardship for those circumstances. This policy accounts for other unforeseen events as well.
“So you could fall off a curb, sprain your ankle, or break your foot and you could then qualify for medical hardship,” she said. “Which, I think that is nice to have that, because you think about all kinds of different accidents that can happen.”