December 2, 2011; Eugene, OR, USA; Detail view of the endzone pylon with the Pac-12 logo during the third quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game between the UCLA Bruins and the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks defeated the Bruins 49-31. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Pac-12 News: Examining the proposed Student Athlete Bill of Rights: Part One

On Saturday, we told you about a bill proposed by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) that would bring big changes to student athletics at Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC. The bill—called the Student Athlete Bill of Rights—would require California universities that make in excess of $10 million in media revenue to comply with said bill. Check out this link for a run down of the elements of it.

Over the next three days, we will examine a few specific elements of the proposed Student Athlete Bill of Rights, looking at how they would impact the schools and how best to implement them.

We will start by looking at the first element of the bill, which reads as follows:

Among other things, the bill would require that, if an athletic program, as defined, does not renew the athletic scholarship of a student athlete, as defined, who suffers an injury resulting from his or her participation in the athletic program or whose athletic scholarship is not renewed for another nondisciplinary cause, the institution of higher education would provide an equivalent scholarship, as prescribed.

To summarize, this point says that if an athlete gets injured and can no longer participate in his/her sport, or if he/she loses a scholarship for any non-disciplinary reason, the school is required to provide them an equivalent academic scholarship.
This point is clearly intended to provide student-athletes with the opportunity to capitalize on the “student” part, if something should happen to derail their career. In it’s opening, this bill seeks to do something to actually benefits the student-athletes in the long run, something that we do not often seen in collegiate athletics.

As it stands now, a school gets to determine whether to honor an athletic scholarship if an athlete can no longer perform. In most cases, if there is a medical situation that comes about that either was unknown at the time or developed during an athlete’s tenure at a program, the university in question will honor the scholarship. Such was the case for former linebacker Frankie Telfort, who came to USC on a full-ride in 2009 but was never able to suit up once it was discovered that he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that often results in sudden cardiac death among athletes. Telfort was allowed to keep his scholarship, and thus was allowed to keep his opportunity at earning a college degree.

But not all collegiate athletes are so fortunate.

One of the biggest knocks against NCAA sports—but most specifically football and basketball—is that the universities do not invest in their athletes’ education enough. Sure, the schools give them millions in scholarship money, but what really matters is how well they do on game day, not what they do in the classroom. And once they can no longer do what makes the school tons of money, the school has the power to take away the scholarship, essentially leaving the athlete high and dry in terms of working towards a degree. It’s no secret that the majority of athletes that participate in revenue-generating sports come from low-income backgrounds, so an athletic scholarship is the difference between getting the chance to make a new life for oneself and becoming a statistic.

So should the university, the institutions that make billions of dollars from the labor and talent of the athletes, have the right to determine an athlete’s academic fate as well? The California State Senate says no.

If an athlete has some kind of extenuating circumstance that requires he/she to leave his/her sport, he/she should absolutely have the right to continue this/her education as provided by the university. The value of a student-athlete should not begin and end on the football field or the basketball court; rather, universities of higher education should always prioritize the educational future of their athletes, as this will last long after the game day lights have been turned off. Especially when considering all the fame and notoriety that just one athlete can bring a program, the ability to work toward a degree should not live and die by the ability to score touchdowns or make three-pointers.

If this specific provision were to pass as it currently is written in the proposed bill, the universities of Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA would only be able to deny athletes an equivalent academic scholarship for “disciplinary reasons”. As it stands, this is pretty vague and does not clearly define what a disciplinary reason is. It would reason that this means if an athlete is kicked off the team for violating team rules, and if that were what it means, then it would make sense. Regular students who violate university rules are just as likely to be expelled from the university as well. However, if athletic programs can use this as a loophole to get rid of problem plays for minor things, then it could be a problem. Going forward in the legislateive process, this part will probably be the subject of debate.

However, as a whole, this point could only stand to benefit student-athletes, something that the NCAA seems to have little to no interest in. If it were to pass, student-athletes would not have to fear injuries or other circumstances putting an end to their future. Sure, a torn ACL could absolutely end an athlete’s athletic career, but he/she would know that he/she would be able to continue his/her education, finish his/her degree requirements, and start a new future with a college degree. While this of course is not the future that most athletes see for themselves, it is significantly better than having few options because of having to withdraw from college. In considering that Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA all makes millions on millions from their athletes, it is reasonable that they can afford to continue covering the cost of education once their student-athletes become just students.

Furthermore, student-athletes at Stanford and USC stand to benefit the most from this bill, as their $50 thousand a year education would be secured. For athletes like, say, Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, a lost scholarship wouldn’t mean much in terms of ability to continue at their respective schools because their families could afford that steep cost either way. For middle class or low-income student-athletes however, this would not be the case, and they would likely find themselves unable to continue at such an expensive school. But if their scholarship was guaranteed even beyond their ability to play sports, that would be one less thing they have to worry about.

For Cal and UCLA, it is possible that their governing bodies would oppose this part of the legislation on the grounds that they cannot afford to honor a full-ride with the deplorable condition the California state budget is in. They might say that it is not feasible to transfer an athletic scholarship—which is not funded by taxpayer dollars—to an academic one, which is.

For the proposed Student Athlete Bill of Rights to be passed into law, a couple of things need to happen. Now that the CA Senate has passed the bill, the next step is to go before the Assembly for further consideration. Here, a committee will review it, where edits and amendments to the bill are made. Then it is sent to the full Assembly body for a floor vote. Typically, interested and affected parties (in this case, coaches and athletic directors) have the option to go to public hearings to provide testimony for or against the bill, or they can even suggest amendments to it as well. Once the bill is voted on and passed by the Assembly, it goes to the governor for signature or veto. If the governor signs the bill, it becomes a law and would be effective starting the following January. So for this bill, it would go into effect Jan. 2013.

There is still a lot of time for this bill to be changed and amended before it could be passed into law, so we will be monitoring it in the mean time.

Check back Monday for the next installment of our breakdown of the Student Athletes Bill of Rights.

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