May 12, 2011


Matt Campbell
J.D. Candidate ‘08
DePaul University College of Law

‘No school ID, no play.’ ‘No jewelry.’ ‘Sign the waiver.’
‘Fill out an incident report for any injuries or altercations.’

Every campus recreation professional recites these intramural mantras at student staff training, but is there an understanding as to why these rules are in place?

This article seeks to help intramural professionals provide their student staff with answers as to why recreational programs must maintain rigorous policies. It will also identify risk management concerns in intramural sports in order to eliminate unnecessary risks and mitigate those which are unavoidable.

Intramural programs are unique in that the majority of the competitions and participation take place after the professional staff has gone home for the evening or weekend, leaving student staff in charge. To best facilitate the student staff to efficiently and effectively run the program, an understanding of not only what the policies and procedures are, but why they are in place, is necessary.

The majority of risks in intramurals arise under the legal doctrine of tort. A basic understanding of this legal concept should be included in student staff training. A tort consists of four basic components:

  1. Duty–an obligation imposed on an individual requiring that they adhere to a reasonable standard of care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.
  2. Breach–when conduct has fallen short of the standard that was expected.
  3. Causation–there must be a reasonable connection between the breach of duty and the injury.
  4. Damages–the basis for tort law is to compensate for an injury resulting from a wrongful act; if there is no damage, there is no compensation.
    (See SportRisk, McGregor & Associates, 2008)

One example of how a tort claim may arise in intramurals is when a student participating in intramural volleyball is hurt when colliding with an unpadded pole.

  1. Duty–The intramural program has a duty to the student to provide a reasonably safe environment.
  2. Breach–This duty has been breached by the clear risk of an unpadded pole, easily deemed conduct falling short of the reasonable care standard.
  3. Causation–The unpadded pole could be a result of the program’s general lack of padding on the volleyball equipment or a result of a student staff member forgetting to put up the pads prior to the start of play. The injury was closely related to the lack of padding on the volleyball pole, thus satisfying the legal threshold of causation.
  4. Damages–The damages here is the injury to the participant. The participant may attempt to recover financially to rectify the damages.

In this situation, the intramural program would be considered negligent and the student would have a prima facie cause of action against the program. Nevertheless, there are defenses to negligence, many of which are embedded in program policies and procedures–hence the need for them!


Contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and waiver/consent are the defenses most frequently raised in recreation and sports injury cases. (SportRisk, McGregor & Associates, 2008).

  1. Contributory Negligence–conduct on the part of the injured party which falls below the standard to which they are required to conform for their own protection.
  2. Assumption of Risk–a party who voluntarily assumes a risk of harm arising from another’s conduct cannot recover if said harm results.
  3. Waiver/Consent Form–a voluntary relinquishment of a claim, right or privilege by a person to someone against whom it might be enforced.
    (SportRisk, McGregor & Associates, 2008)

Contributory negligence is important when there is an altercation or injury. Recording the information at the time it happens is essential where the injured party may have contributed to their injury, as this documentation may bar any future claim against the program. Using the example from above, the volleyball participant may have contributed to their own injury by a number of factors, including wearing inappropriate footwear, being pushed, being inebriated, or even being reckless. In this situation, a timely and descriptive incident report is critical.

Assumption of risk and waiver/consent are similar defenses to a tort claim. Generally, courts will uphold these agreements only if it is unmistakable that the parties’ intent was to shift the risk of loss. This is why it is important that the waivers are well drafted and all participants have signed the waiver prior to participating in any intramural competition. In the volleyball example, the participant may be barred from bringing an action so long as they have signed the waiver and it is clear that they intended to absolve the intramural program from any liability arising from negligence.


It is essential to identify risk management concerns in intramural sports to eliminate unnecessary risks, and mitigate those risks which are unavoidable. In order to mitigate the unavoidable risks, there are certain measures which must be implemented. Prior to the start of a new academic year it is important for the intramural director to:

a. Develop A Risk Management Plan
Meet with university General Counsel/Risk Management Team
1. Discuss any changes or rulings in tort liability which may affect the program
2. Draft or review the waiver/consent form
3. Establish minimum certification standards for student employees
4. Establish a exact minimum threshold for incidents requiring documentation

b. Train & Instruct Student Staff
1. Identify all safety training protocols necessary for the specific needs of the program
2. Make sure all supervisors are trained and certified in appropriate emergency protocol (e.g. 1st Aid/CPR/AED/Blood Pathogens/MRSA)
3. Develop an emergency action plan where all staff positions are given specific roles in the event of an emergency
4. Demonstrate the importance of documentation
a. Rehearse competent written communication between student and professional staff
b. Ensure a process to implement waivers is in place
5. Continually update and refresh employees in safety protocol
a. Communicate changes or issues to student staff
b. Integrate resultant examples from the program into instruction
c. Test staff understanding of policies and procedures through interactive situational illustrations
6. Ensure all referees are properly qualified and trained

c. Document Everything
1. Keep copies of each supervisor’s certification/ qualifications on file
2. Ensure facilities and equipment are checked daily through the use of daily checklists
3. Have a general log of the daily activities regardless of any incidents
4. When there is an incident, the appropriate forms must be completed by program staff and given to professional staff for review and filing
5. Continually update & evaluate program policies and procedures

d. Facilities and Equipment
1. Inspect and inventory all equipment to ensure that they conform with governing regulations
2. Determine who is going to conduct inspections and the frequency of the inspections of all playing facilities and program equipment
3. Identify any natural hazards which may come into play during outdoor sports and develop a plan to manage these hazards.

Intramural programs are unique within Campus Recreation because of the high volume and level of interaction between participants. Furthermore, the majority of programming occurs under the direct supervision of student staff. Therefore it is essential that student staff be given the knowledge and training to efficiently and effectively run a safe intramural program.

A number of jurisdictions may have rules, regulations, constitutional provisions, legislative enactments, or judicial opinions bearing upon this subject. Because this article is meant to provide a general position on risk management in intramural sports, the reader is advised to consult the appropriate statutory or regulatory compilations for their appropriate jurisdiction. For a further understanding please consult SportRisk, 3rd Edition, McGregor & Associates (2008)

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