The massive contraction in the loss-of-value insurance market for college athletes has created a thriving economy for assigning blame. As Sportico has reported this week, a wild 2010s expansion in the market for LOV policies, meant to protect elite pro prospects from the financial risk of career-threatening illness or injury, has now pulled back dramatically, with insiders describing an industry that was short on due diligence and rife with exploitation.
Bryan Fisher, a Louisiana-based attorney who has filed a number of insurance suits on behalf of college athletes, told Sportico: “The phrase ‘conflict of interest’ is one you should write in bold letters and watch for examples of at every turn.”
But if there are conflicts of interest, there are also notable interests in conflict. And those are exemplified by two main players in the LOV insurance game, Ronnie Kaymore and David Brookbank, both of whom say their highest purpose is to educate top college athletes about protecting themselves and their future assets. They just happen to be teaching from two very different textbooks.
In many ways, their differences inform a version of the populist versus establishment debate that has taken hold in college sports—and America—and that beckons the age-old question: Who, exactly, can individuals trust with their livelihood?
For Kaymore, who has become one of the more well-known (and in some circles notorious) retail agents of athlete disability policies, the biggest threat to the college sports star is the iron-fisted NCAA and its institutional abettors.
A former junior college and Arena Football League player, Kaymore launched an eponymous risk management and consulting business in 2009, specializing in selling disability insurance to pro and college athletes. Since then, he has become an eminently quotable subject, ever-eager to talk shop and tweak the powers that be.
Instead of working directly with schools’ athletics compliance offices, as brokers are encouraged (but not required) to do, Kaymore takes his business straight to athletes and their families. In doing so, he presents himself as a righteous outsider thumbing his nose at a system that continues to harm the interests of his talented—and, he notes, disproportionately black—clientele. Kaymore’s aggressive and, at times combative, approach has earned him no shortage of industry critics, several of whom aired their grievances, unbidden albeit anonymously, to Sportico.
“I had no idea I would become a target, in essence, because I am just an insurance provider,” Kaymore said. “If I work with a doctor or executive making $2 million a year, I am not going through this crazy process. But if I am going to insure, say, Leonard Fournette, I’ve got to fight through all of this just to do an insurance policy.”
On the other end of the LOV spectrum is Brookbank, a college sports conventionalist whose job is working hand-in-hand with schools to attenuate, theoretically, the influence of any one broker—but especially one who doesn’t work within the conventional channels.
“A lot of student-athletes are only shown one [insurance policy] option, maybe two at the most, and they don’t know that there could be three or four other options out there that they have not seen,” Brookbank said. “And here is the thing: Brokers will typically have a contract with one to two carriers, and a preferred [carrier] that pays [the broker] more commissions.”
After two decades selling insurance, Brookbank launched his consulting firm, Income Protection Consultants, in 2006 to advise athletic departments on disability insurance for their athletes. While primarily working with Power 5 schools, Brookbank has also done contract work for the NCAA: In 2017, for example, he was paid to conduct a joint study commissioned by the NCAA and Lead1, the FBS athletic director trade association. In 2019, the NCAA hired Brookbank to review the proposals from insurers interested in administering the association’s Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance (ESDI) program, which covers the permanent total disability premiums of qualifying athletes.
Unlike Kaymore, Brookbank strains to stay under the radar and says that before agreeing to speak with Sportico, he had consistently declined media interview requests. Behind the scenes, he pitches himself as an impartial and fair-minded resource, giving institutions and their athletes a complete picture of the market. Still, Brookbank’s work also draws criticism from others in the business, who contend his services are superfluous and question how much trust an athlete can place in someone paid directly by a university.
Disability insurance encapsulates many of the usual issues with college sports’ amateurism structure, exacerbated by a pitched resource dilemma: Unlike other benefits, the NCAA allows schools to pay for the insurance premiums for their athletes, but only with the limited monies from their designated Special Assistance and Student-Athlete Opportunity Funds.
Since 2015, the NCAA has also permitted athletes to borrow money for premiums against their future pro earnings, but only from approved and accredited financial institutions. Through the NCAA, certain top-flight athletes can qualify for permanent total disability coverage, but not loss-of-value. Even with all the recent conversations and machinations over expanding college athletes’ financial freedom, sources said that there are currently no serious discussions about loosening the restrictions over how LOV can be purchased.
The current set-up forces a number of pro prospects each year to decide whether to let their schools pick up the tab for their premiums, or take out loans to do it themselves.
Kaymore advocates for players leaving the schools out of it, noting that, given the limits of the NCAA distribution funds, which are meant to cover myriad incidental expenses for a school’s entire athlete population, athletic departments are too constrained to be counted on. Even where there are sufficient resources, Kaymore says, it is generally unwise for an athlete to delegate what could end up being a multi-million-dollar insurance claim to an institution with potentially adverse prerogatives.
“The reason I object to [schools] paying is if they pay, they are going to create the rules,” Kaymore said. “How about just pay and let the kids find their own insurance person? I do other types of insurance for athletes.… How come the school isn’t this adamant about auto insurance?”
Brookbank, according to Kaymore, represents just another bureaucratic cog dictating the information flow to athletes.
“I think he is a good guy in terms of his heart, but the system is a problem,” Kaymore said.
Kaymore notes that some schools have recently begun requiring athletes to sign waivers releasing them from any liability for issues that may arise out of disability insurance claims, even if the school is involved in coordinating or advising on them. Sportico found two such examples at Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, both of which not only release the institutions from liability, but Brookbank as well. According to a Pitt athletic spokesperson, the school began using the release last spring. (A Hokies spokesperson declined to comment.)
“Our business practices as they relate to disability insurance policies for student-athletes are fully disclosed to the athletics department as well as the athletes and their families,” Brookbank said. He describes his operation, Income Protection Consultants, as effectively riding herd on the disability insurance selection process, from the solicitation of quotes to the final review of policies. Brookbank said he advises on between 200 and 250 potential college athlete disability policies each year.
In interviews, several brokers questioned why a school would hire someone to do the job of a retail broker without taking on the liability of serving as the agent of record on insurance contracts.
“I can’t figure out what the value added is for the fee,” said Chris Lack, who runs the sports and entertainment division of Exceptional Risk Advisors, a Lloyd’s of London coverholder.
“In our office, we can go to any of the coverholders we want and provide the schools with all the quotes that they need,” said Keith Lerner, an insurance agent in Gainesville, Fla., who has sold LOV policies to college athletes for more than 30 years. “To pay a middleman to get that information is just really not necessary.”
Brookbank touts his expertise and independence. “We have no financial agreements with any broker or insurance providers,” he said. Brookbank also claims that schools benefit from his company’s “proprietary patent-pending analysis” that helps determine who is a good candidate for what type of coverage, and how best a university can pitch in.
Brookbank declined to discuss how he gets compensated, but Sportico obtained records from a number of public Division I universities showing that, in most cases, he contracts with athletic departments to consult on all of their disability insurance needs during a given year. Schools, in turn, pay him between $3,000 and $10,500 annually for these services, depending on the level of involvement. (Here are Income Protection Consultants’ most recent agreements with Arizona State, Clemson and Texas Tech, each of whom paid for Brookbank’s upper-tier package.)
In some cases, Brookbank has been hired by an athletic department to consult on insurance for just one
particular athlete. In December 2018, for example, Brookbank signed an engagement letter with Wisconsin that paid him up to $5,000 (at $350/hour) to advise on the available coverage options for star running back Jonathan Taylor.
Kaymore says that he was the retail agent who ultimately sold Taylor his policy and recalls that UW ended up covering the premiums. Nevertheless, Kaymore adds, the salient factor is that Brookbank’s bread is being buttered by the schools.
“What if the sports agent represented the team as well as the player: How would that work out?” Kaymore asked, rhetorically. “Do you get a contract that is favorable to salary cap or more favorable to the player?”
Brookbank declined to speak specifically about Kaymore—or any other broker, for that matter. In fact, one of his biggest contentions is that there has simply been too much chitter-chatter from the industry.
“Historically, I have seen brokers use the media to market themselves by disclosing policies and claims that they have been able to secure for student-athletes,” Brookbank said. “The problem with that is it is a confidential matter.”
Kaymore’s approach has made him a persona non grata among not only schools, but carriers too. For years, he relied heavily on International Specialty Insurance, a Lloyd’s coverholder that was criticized for underwriting cheap-premium policies to college athletes considered dubious candidates for coverage. As Sportico previously reported, ISI lost its LOV capabilities following an aborted sale to Ryan Specialty Group in 2019, and more recently was acquired by Exceptional Risk Advisers, its former competitor.
More than a few in the industry blame ISI for creating a bubble, and believe agents like Kaymore contributed to distrust and instability in the market.
“He was shopping all over the place [for quotes], so we didn’t feel he was a partner,” said Derrick Pfau, an executive at Petersen International Underwriters. “He wanted LOV on everyone from the star to the kicker. We kind of pulled back from him.”
In Kaymore’s mind, there was nothing problematic with what ISI did, and he has his fans among players and parents, who believe him to be a true advocate for the athlete’s interests over the school’s. Fisher, who has litigated on behalf of several Kaymore clients, said that, if anything, the broker should wear his pariah status as a badge of honor.
“The people who are portrayed as the good [insurance] agents are the ones who have close affiliations with the coaches and universities and are protecting the coaches and universities,” said Fisher. “The guys with the black hats are portrayed as ones with the white hats, and as someone who sues over these policies, I can tell you: Ronnie Kaymore has a white hat.”