UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford University and the University of Southern California may face new state requirements when it comes to their student-athletes, including extended scholarships and medical treatment for injured athletes. That is, if the Student Athlete Bill of Rights — authored by Senator Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley — is passed by the state Senate and Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bill — introduced in February — would force the schools to continue student-athletes’ scholarships if they suffer an “incapacitating injury or illness” for up to five years until they graduate, or after “exhaust(ing) his or her athletic eligibility” for up to one year or until they graduate.
“Neither personal injury nor poverty should dim the dreams of a student-athlete pursuing a college degree, particularly when their performance has enriched their college,” Padilla said in a press release.
The bill would apply to California universities with intercollegiate athletic programs that receive at least an average of $10 million in media rights revenue for intercollegiate athletics. The extended scholarships would be exclusively funded by the media rights revenue, potentially saving state funds.
In other words, according to UC Berkeley Senior Associate Athletic Director Foti Mellis, the bill would not affect any funds to currents students. But, according to the senator’s office, there are discussions around using funds from other areas like NCAA grant money and private donations.
Among other requirements, universities must respond to transfer requests within seven business days and pay for the medical insurance premiums of low-income students. Additionally, they would need to pay the medical treatment or health insurance and deductible that covers an athlete’s injury that was a result of their participation in the program for a minimum of two years.
UC Berkeley already ensures treatment of athletes for two years, costing more than $100,000 annually, according to a bill analysis. Mellis said the campus also already complies with all provisions of this current bill and has been for years. A previous version of the bill required the universities to approve all transfer requests and provide extended scholarships to all athletes dropped for any non-disciplinary reason.
“I still think this bill has … great things for athletes,” said UCLA football player Jeff Locke, a member of the National College Players Association Players Council who collected about 80 student-athlete signatures in support of the bill. “Of course, ideally it wouldn’t have been amended in certain ways but that’s just part of the political process.”
The schools opposed a previous version of the bill, claiming the transfer provision had prevented them from discouraging competing schools from recruiting their athletes. They also argued that the bill created a “competitive disadvantage” because of a team’s NCAA maximum scholarship limit and unfairly penalized only four schools, according to the bill analysis.
In a letter to Senate Education Committee chair Alan Lowenthal, UC Legislative Director Nadia Leal-Carrillo said the bill’s unamended version would cost the UC an estimated annual fee of over $3 million, “an untenable annual cost to the UC system, with little or no additional benefit to UC students.”
Due to the many university complaints, Padilla agreed to narrow down the bill and consequently all the schools but Stanford University removed their opposition on July 3.
“Stanford believes that if there is a bill of rights that applies to student-athletes, then it should apply to all student-athletes and not just select institutions,” said Stanford Interim Athletic Director Patrick Dunkley. Fellis also spoke of similar disappointments about the bill.
Dunkley said Stanford was willing to compromise and remove its opposition if certain provisions applied to all institutions, like the transfer provision, but that proposal was not accepted.
Under the bill’s terms, athletic teams with a graduation rate above 60 percent would be exempted from the exhausted athletes provision for athletes, which would work as an incentive to improve graduation rates, according to Padilla’s office. NCAA reported in 2004 that the UC Berkeley men’s basketball graduation success rate is 33 percent and the football team’s success rate is 54 percent.
For Locke, the medical aspects of the bill are some of the most important.
“You see it on paper but you have to tell (lawmakers) that these things have happened to athletes in the past across the nation,” Locke said.
The bill will next be heard by the state Assembly Committee on Appropriations, and then on the Assembly floor only if it is passed by the committee. It will then be sent back to the Senate for concurrence and finally end up at the governor’s desk.
According to the senator’s office, among numerous states who have attempted to pass similar bills, the bill has had the most success in California.
“These issues, I can guarantee you right now, are not going away whether or not this bill lives or dies,” National College Players Association President Ramogi Huma — who worked with model legislation regarding student-athletes scholarship and supports the bill — said. “If we have to come back every single year, we’ll come back every single year.”