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Bush is covered against career-ending injury

1/4/2006

If Reggie Bush suffers a career-ending injury in the Rose Bowl, he'll lose out on the millions of dollars that would have greeted him in the professional ranks.

Don't worry, though. He's covered.

Bush, this year's Heisman Trophy winner and projected No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, holds insurance policies that cover him for up to $6 million. So he has financial protection against an injury, not only in the Rose Bowl, but also on a 24-hour basis until he signs a professional contract or Aug. 1, whichever comes first.

Some of his teammates at Southern Cal also are heavily insured. Quarterback Matt Leinart came back for his senior season in possession of an insurance policy for untold millions, while running back LenDale White ($2 million policy) and wide receiver Steve Smith ($1 million) both played this year with insurance protection in place.

Should any of these players suffer injuries that are deemed by doctors to be career-ending, they will receive the amount for which they are insured, tax free.

At the beginning of the season, Bush filled out the paperwork on a $3 million policy purchased through an NCAA loan. That's the maximum allowed by the NCAA for a potential first-round NFL draft pick. But one source close to Bush said the document that would execute the policy wasn't sent to the organization's office until at least halfway though the Trojans' 2005 season, which means a career-ending injury would have yielded Bush no financial compensation.

When Bush became aware of the situation, he made sure the documentation was completed and then sought additional insurance.

Before USC's game against Stanford on Nov. 5, he took out another $3 million policy with insurance agent Rich "Big Daddy" Salgado. Every $1 million in insurance costs approximately $10,000.

"A guy like Reggie is worth at least $30 million," said Salgado, president of Coastal Advisors, which has insured more than 15 potential first-round draft picks over the years, including former University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. "After taxes, he'd initially be worth about $15 million to $17 million. Insurance companies won't expose themselves to that much money, but if you can get 20 to 35 percent of what you are worth, you can feel good that you protected yourself if, God forbid, you got hurt."

Bush's policy, like most policies for amateur players, comes with no exclusions, meaning that Bush can be injured in any manner -- ranging from a pro workout day to riding a motorcycle -- and still collect ... as long as he never plays football again.

It is rare to find potential top draft picks without million-dollar policies. Tim Couch, the first overall pick of the 1999 NFL draft, came back for his junior season at the University of Kentucky after taking out a $3 million insurance policy, which at the time was the largest of its kind. These days, with signing bonuses clearing $10 million for the top five NFL draft picks, a select few seek more than $3 million to feel comfortable about going back to school to play for free for another season.

If he is the first overall pick, Bush -- who is only a junior -- could sign a contract that could exceed the six-year, $49.5 million contract signed by his former high school teammate Alex Smith, who was drafted first overall by the San Francisco 49ers last year.

For many of today's top collegiate athletes, the risk of injury is a wake-up call. Three years ago, University of Miami running back Willis McGahee, a top pro prospect, tore two ligaments in his left knee in the fourth quarter of the BCS national championship game against Ohio State. Many lamented McGahee's plight until they found out that he'd protected himself by taking out a $2.5 million policy just days before the game. McGahee underwent surgery, became a first-round draft pick for Buffalo and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons and thus eschewed collecting on his policy. But the shrewdness of McGahee's insurance move was a lesson to others.

Keith Lerner, president of the insurance company Total Planning, said he offered four current college football players, whom he won't name, as much as $10 million in coverage this year. One of the reasons the numbers continue to go up is that very few players collect. The last high-profile player to collect on a policy is believed to be former University of Florida defensive tackle Ed Chester, who collected a tax-free $1 million in 1998 after a career-ending injury. Injuries such as those sustained by Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas (torn ACL) and Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny (unspecified knee injury) in their teams' bowl games earlier this week could keep the juniors from declaring for the NFL draft this year.

Assuming they had insurance and were drafted in a later round than they'd anticipated pre-injury, they would not be covered for loss of value. They'd just have to make the difference up on their own, as Adewale Ogunleye did. In 1999, the Indiana University defensive end came back for his senior season despite being projected to be among the top defensive linemen in the '99 NFL draft. Ogunleye subsequently tore up his knee, went undrafted and was forced to sign a free agent contract. But after he led the AFC in sacks in 2003, Ogunleye signed a six-year, $33.4 million contract with the Chicago Bears that included a $15 million signing bonus.

College officials, who used to be oblivious to insurance policies, now have to pay attention, as these policies can be the school's greatest tool in the effort to keep a star player for another year. In 2001, after hearing that Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick would not be back for his senior season, officials in the athletic department told Vick he could take out a loan that would yield him $7 million in coverage.

"I've been in this business for 18 years, and this year was the first time that a head coach of a major university ever called me," said Lerner, whose company wrote McGahee's policy. "He said to me, 'We have a junior who says he's not coming back, and I wanted to be able to tell him that he could at least get a significant amount of insurance if he considered returning.'"

Although the NFL doesn't allow players who are less than three years removed from high school to enter the draft, that hasn't stopped underclassmen from taking out insurance. Lerner says he wouldn't be surprised if a highly coveted freshman takes out an insurance policy upon entering college.

If and when it goes that far, it isn't difficult to imagine a recruiting war that includes coaches' guaranteeing a high school kid and his parents the best loan on an insurance policy in the college game.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.