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More Aid for College Athletes Sought

Student Athletes
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An advocacy group is pushing a “bill of rights” for student-athletes aimed at increasing financial assistance to college players.

Among other things, the legislation would require large athletic programs to cover all sports-related medical expenses incurred by athletes. Such programs would also be required to pay into a state trust fund, with the proceeds going to student loan creditors on behalf of former men’s basketball and football players who are still in school but have exhausted their athletic eligibility.

In addition, the legislation would require all college athletic programs, regardless of size, to continue providing financial aid to student-athletes whose athletic scholarships are revoked despite being in in good standing.

The National College Players Association says it will push the legislation in at least 15 states this year. State lawmakers in California and Indiana have already committed to pushing versions of the bill, which could include different provisions than the ones proposed by the players association. The Associated Press obtained details of the campaign Monday ahead of its official release.

California state Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat who plans to introduce legislation aimed at increasing the support for student-athletes, said the lack of a requirement under NCAA rules for schools to pay for medical coverage or provide academic support for injured student-athletes mean many lose their scholarships “but are also saddled with medical bills they cannot afford.”

The campaign comes on the eve of the NCAA’s annual convention in Indianapolis, where the Division I Board of Directors will reconsider a plan it approved last fall that would allow schools to award athletes multi-year scholarships. More than 75 schools have requested an override of that plan.

Another rule approved by the board, allowing schools to give athletes a $2,000 stipend for living costs not covered by scholarships, was suspended last month after at least 125 schools objected. At the NCAA meeting, the board can keep the suspension in place until an override vote takes place, eliminate the rule, or amend it.

Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who heads the National College Players Association, said his group has been saying for years that the NCAA is incapable of meaningful reform.

“We just saw with the latest reform effort,” Huma said. “Even a modest effort at reform failed. It’s a dysfunctional system. They have tried to convince us that they will do the right thing for their student-athletes, but they are the entities actively denying their student-athletes basic protections.”

NCAA spokeswoman Amy Dunham challenged Huma’s characterization of the effort as “failed.”

“In fact, the Division I Board of Directors will reconsider each of these proposals through a democratic process whereby member schools with dissenting views are encouraged to be heard,” she said in an email. “There are several potential outcomes that could include altering the proposals to address the concerns of those requesting the override.”

The college players association’s proposals on medical expenses and the trust fund would apply to athletic programs that average $10 million or more in annual TV revenue. The NCAA currently requires schools to certify that an athlete has insurance coverage for athletically-related injuries, up to the deductible of the NCAA Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program (currently $90,000). The insurance coverage can be offered by the school, a parent/guardian, or a personal policy of the athlete.

Dunham said that 95 percent of Division I schools provide such insurance coverage.

While most of the bill’s provisions would apply to all college athletes, the trust fund proceeds would be earmarked for men’s basketball and football players. In addition to paying off creditors, the trust fund would provide such athletes who have exhausted their athletic eligibility with money to complete their degrees, or money after they earn their degrees.

Huma said that the bill focuses the trust fund on men’s basketball and football players because of their low graduation rates, and the fact that they generate the revenue.

Last year, the players association got more than 300 major college football and men’s basketball players to sign a petition telling the NCAA and college presidents they want a cut of ever-increasing TV sports revenue.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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