California Sen. Alex Padilla proposed a bill this week that would require NCAA universities to guarantee that student-athletes currently on scholarship retain their financial aid through graduation, regardless of injury and time needed to complete degree requirements. USC currently guarantees the provisions of the bill to athletes on scholarship.
“Academics are paramount and the vast majority of athletes here understand that they will need that college degree,” USC men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill said. “USC is ahead of the curve.”
The bill mandates all colleges earning $10 million or more in broadcast revenues to continue supporting athletes on scholarship who have exhausted their athletic eligibility but still need time to graduate. Athletes on full scholarships would keep those scholarships until they earn a college degree, even if their athletic eligibility expires.
“USC takes care of its athletes,” said Abe Markowitz, a senior majoring in urban planning and development and an offensive lineman on scholarship for the USC football team. “Coaches work around your academic schedule so athletes can be as successful off the field as they are on the field.”
Markowitz sat out the 2010 season because of a foot injury while receiving a full scholarship.
Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker and president of the National College Players Association, calls Padilla’s legislation a student-athlete “bill of rights.” Huma said he expects graduation rates to skyrocket if the bill becomes law.
“There are no excuses, nowhere to run or hide,” Huma said. “The federal graduation rates for football and basketball are the worst at 50 percent, and only 2 percent of the athletes actually go pro, so getting that college degree is important and this bill will definitely help with that.”
According to a NCAA study published last October, student-athletes’ six-year graduation rates are at a record high in nearly every sport, hovering around 80 percent. The study also said that in many colleges, student-athlete graduation rates are higher than those of the general student population.
“It’s a P.R. stunt,” Huma said. “The NCAA inflates graduation rates because it considers athletes who transfer to another school in good standing as college graduates, regardless of whether they actually receive a college degree.”
USC women’s volleyball coach Mick Haley said that in his 12 years of coaching at USC and 17 years coaching at the University of Texas, only one of his players did not graduate. He said his scholarship players took full advantage of their financial support.
“If you use up your athletic eligibility, the scholarship remains. If you get hurt, the scholarship remains,” Haley said. “The scholarship lasts until the student-athlete graduates.”
USC also continues providing for scholars if they suffer an injury, similar to what is proposed in Padilla’s bill.
“I know a couple of players who suffered career-ending injuries at USC but still got medical scholarships so they can get their degree,” Markowitz said.
Additional responsibilities during the athletic season can often impact athletes’ academics, Huma said.
“Lots of athletes come into college with relaxed academic standards, so they’re already behind, and then add in all the stress and time the season demands, plus mandatory training over the summer preventing athletes from getting jobs,” Huma said. “It’s pretty clear that academics are often sacrificed for sports.”
Haley said this is not the case at USC.
“Academic excellence is our top priority,” he said.
If Padilla’s bill passes, colleges will not be able to revoke scholarships because of sports-related injuries and will have to cover athletes’ entire medical expenses when insurance falls short.
“You can’t recruit world-class athletes without providing medical benefits,” Haley said. “Athletes are smart and they do their research so they know what benefits their university provides them.”
Haley also said USC athletic scholarships cannot be revoked.
Women’s volleyball is not the only program at USC with high graduation rates. The men’s basketball team graduated eight of nine seniors, O’Neill said.
According to a press release from the NCAA, numbers calculated by the federal government put the graduation rate of Division I athletes at 65 percent.
Sports analysts are speculative as to whether Padilla’s bill will make a significant impact on college sports because graduation rates are already rising. According to the NCAA, 95 percent of colleges already cover student-athletes’ medical expenses. Huma and the NCPA, however, believe the bill will encourage more reform, specifically by increasing athletes’ stipends.
“Some of these student-athletes generate millions of dollars for their athletic departments, yet do not receive enough support to consistently pay for food,” Huma said.
The NCAA approved a plan last December to increase the players’ monthly stipend to $2,000, but the plan was voted down by 125 schools because of its financial burden on colleges located in areas with low-living expenses.
“This bill is long overdue and needs to be passed to protect student-athletes,” Huma said. “All student-athletes should support this bill.”