SBJ/February 28 - March 5, 2000/No Topic Name

NFL, teams have safety nets in place

There has never been a catastrophe in the NFL, unless you happened to be a Cleveland Browns fan when the team pulled up roots five years ago.

Yet with half the league's 31 teams flying every week for nearly six months out of the year coupled with the fact that planes do, on rare occasion, fall out of the sky, there is the chance that an NFL team could be wiped out. To deal with such a tragic event, the league has contingencies in place to protect itself.

The plan, spelled out in dry terms in Vol. 1, Page C82, in what has to be the most ghoulish section of the NFL's policy manual, offers instructions on how the league handles the crash of a plane carrying a team — or any other catastrophe, for that matter. Here's how it works:

Should an accident strike an NFL team, the league has made sure that the show will go on. The financial protection comes in the form of business interruption insurance, which provides coverage for both home and visiting teams in the event a game or games are canceled. Included in the coverage are a home team's share of the gate plus rent paid, while a visiting team gets coverage of its share of the gate minus travel expenses saved. Any damages are paid directly to the teams.

"Each league has their own plan and coverages, but in the NFL most teams have additional insurance against a catastrophe," said Mike Price, president of ESIX Entertainment and Sports, an Atlanta-based insurance consultant company that specializes in sports and entertainment. "There are league plans to cover the teams and the players, but it takes time to rebuild a team, [so] there is coverage for a lost season."

Based on the type of disaster, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue determines whether a team must continue or cancel its season. But the NFL is not prone to canceling games. After all, this is a league that ordered its teams to play the weekend after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, and that was 35 years before the NFL's $17.6 billion television contract.

The league has never had to execute its disaster plan, but remembering the plane crash in 1970 that killed 37 Marshall University football players is enough to cause NFL officials to be familiar with the league's disaster plan.

The NFL divides common accidents into three categories: Lost player, when one player is killed or incapacitated for the season; disaster, when a team loses 15 or more players in an accident; and near disaster, when a team loses between two and 15 players in an accident.

Should a team suffer a disaster, it's the commissioner's call whether to cancel that team's season. If the accident is considered a near disaster, then the NFL states that the games must go on.

To replace lost players, the NFL suspends normal rules for trades, waivers and cuts to help a team replenish its roster.

Should a team lose a quarterback, specific provisions are spelled out in the plan. No other positions carry specific guidelines for replacement.

According to the plan, if a team loses any quarterbacks in a near disaster, it can replace the same number of quarterbacks from other teams for play for the remainder of the season. That's not to say that the team that has lost its quarterbacks can pick the Troy Aikmans of the league. Other clubs can freeze two of their quarterbacks, and the quarterbacks who are selected must be returned to their original club the following year.

Things get even more complicated when a team is lost for the season.

Should that ever occur, the team will have the first pick in the next year's draft and the roster will be filled by other players on teams, similar to how an expansion team would select players.

Each NFL team would protect 32 players from its active and reserve rosters. The disaster club, as the NFL calls it, would pick one player from each team in any order it wants until the disaster team has replaced the exact number it lost.

If the team lost all its players, then the team would be allowed to take more than one player from other teams.

Above all, the commissioner can change the policy however he sees fit, although the league's executive committee must approve any changes.

"It really is up to the commissioner," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

There also is a plan that compensates the team that suffers the disaster. In addition to business interruption coverage, the league has in place television and radio coverage of network contracts.

Should a team be lost for the season, the networks would have the right to reduce their rights fees paid to the NFL, but any losses in revenue would be offset by the insurance coverage that would be paid to the league and split among the remaining teams. That ensures that the NFL's nearly $18 billion television contract remains intact.

The league splits the cost among its 31 teams, depending on how much revenue each team takes in.

While league officials won't disclose its premium, which changes every year depending on leaguewide revenues, experts estimate that it accounts for about 10 percent of the league's total expenses.

The players themselves are covered through double indemnity life insurance that is part of the league's medical plan, and the players' pension plan provides for disability insurance. But the league's policy doesn't include additional payments to players' families, which is why teams also take over additional coverages.

"If a team has a lot of big contracts and bonuses, they will carry more insurance," Price said. "And that's a big-ticket item. It is not unusual to see the insurance piece run to somewhere around 10 percent of a team's total expenses."

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Cleveland Browns, NFL

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