Source: USA TODAY
A U.S. congressman on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require colleges with high-revenue sports programs to provide their athletes with a package of benefits, including financial aid when an athletic scholarship is lifted for reasons other than misconduct or academic failure.
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) has titled his bill the Collegiate Student Athlete Protection Act, and he told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday night it is aimed at helping athletes “who, in some cases, are left behind and taken advantage of.
“For example when you look at football teams like Alabama who are accused of over-signing, and simply cutting players because they’re injured or not as good as they were when they were recruited, these are student-athletes who were promised the opportunity to get a college education and graduate. We need to make sure that they have a better understanding that they’re going to complete that relationship. It shouldn’t be a situation where you have a kid who has a dream and then all of a sudden because the school gets a new coach or they have players that might be a little bit better than them … they’re just tossed to the side.”
The bill has five co-sponsors and marks the second time in less than four months that a House member has unveiled a legislative proposal directed at major-college sports. On Aug. 1, Rep. Charles Dent (R-Penn.) and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) introduced a bill whose provisions include increased due process for NCAA athletic programs accused of misconduct, and making four-year scholarships mandatory for athletes participating in contact/collision sports. Other challenges to the NCAA’s system of benefits for college athletes are proceeding in federal courts and at least one state legislature.
“We’ve not yet had a chance to fully review (Cárdenas’) bill to comment specifically on its provisions,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn told USA TODAY Sports. “More broadly, the NCAA and our members provide more than $2 billion in full or partial scholarships to student-athletes each year and the health and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority. We are committed to empowering student-athletes to be successful on the field, in the classroom and in life.”
Cárdenas’ bill is modeled on a law that took effect in California this year. The legislation would cover athletes in all sports at schools whose athletics departments annually generate at least $10 million in media rights fees on their own and/or from shares of conference and NCAA rights deals.
That means it would cover nearly every school in the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-12 and Southeastern conferences, according to the most recently available revenue data reported to the NCAA by the public schools in those conferences and analyzed by USA TODAY Sports. It also likely would cover Notre Dame, ACC-bound Louisville, Big Ten-bound Rutgers and potentially other schools, depending on how the Education Department – which would be charged with implementation – set the regulations and reporting methods.
Under what would be an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965, these schools would have to provide, among other benefits:
— Institutional financial aid equal to an athletic scholarship if an athlete loses their scholarship due to injury, illness or if an athlete is dismissed from a team while in good academic standing and not in violation of school disciplinary standards. An injured athlete also would be entitled to continued academic support, including tutoring, at the same level received prior to being injured. The institutional aid – including the injured athlete’s academic support — would have to be continued until the athlete has completed a total five academic years or graduated, whichever comes first.
— As much as a fifth full year of institutional financial aid when an athlete in good academic standing has not graduated but has completed the maximum four years of playing eligibility for a team whose NCAA Graduation Success Rate is less than 70%.
— Annual baseline concussion testing for every athlete participating in a “contact or collision sport or a limited-contact or impact sport” before they can participate in any contact drills or activities. (The bill from Dent and Beatty includes a similar requirement, and Wednesday morning in Washington they hosted a four-physician panel on the effects of concussions on student-athletes.)
— Coverage of the costs associated with an injury or illness resulting from sports participation until the athlete has been cleared by a physician, or for not less than two years after an athlete graduates or leaves the school.
An athlete facing the loss or reduction of an athletic scholarship for disciplinary reasons would be entitled to a “formal administrative hearing” and at least one appeal.
If an athlete requested a transfer, the current school would have to grant or deny the request in no more than seven business days.
And at the beginning of each school year, first- and third-year athletes would be required to complete a workshop that would cover topics including the long-term dangers of concussions; financial aid and debt management; and time management.
The money schools would have to spend to comply with these mandates would be required to come exclusively from their media-rights revenues.
“I want to make sure it’s clear that I’m not trying to punish small schools. I’m not trying to make something that’s unfair,” Cárdenas said. “I want to make something that actually is relevant to the universities and colleges that are actually doing very well” financially.
Most of the schools that would be covered by the legislation already provide at least some of the benefits that would be required. In addition, NCAA rules permit Division I schools to offer multi-year athletic scholarships. However, most athletic scholarships are awarded on a one-year basis and school officials, including coaches, decide whether to offer renewals. Decisions to reduce or not renew a scholarship often can be appealed, but the related policies and procedures vary by school.
The NCAA Executive Committee and Division I Board of Directors met recently in Indianapolis to continue the process of creating a new and more flexible governance structure and potentially changes to the current framework of scholarship, which is basically limited to tuition, fees, room, board and books.
Cárdenas said some of the California legislature’s experience as it moved toward this year’s law informed his thinking about why he needed to move now, rather than waiting for the NCAA’s member schools and conferences.
“What happened was (legislators) found that there was a tremendous amount of resistance,” Cárdenas said. “There were some schools that said, ‘We, as an individual school, we do the right thing anyway. Why do you need a law?’ “
Meanwhile, a long-running anti-trust case concerning the use of college athletes’ names and likenesses has been granted class-action status by a U.S. district court, opening the prospect of a full-scale challenge to the NCAA’s scholarship setup. And in early January, a California State Assembly committee is scheduled to consider a bill that would require all public schools in that state to give five-year scholarships to athletes, and would require schools with at least $20 million in annual athletics media and licensing revenue to cover athletes’ full cost of attending school, plus provide a $3,600 stipend.
Cárdenas said he considered adding such provisions to his bill.
“Just like with any legislation I could have gone further, I could have tapered it back,” he said. “But on balance I think this a bill that’s reasonable and, hopefully, that I can get enough of my colleagues to agree with and that we can pass it through.”
The co-sponsors include Charles Rangel (D-NY), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).
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