New legislation aims to protect athletes in wealthiest programs

New legislation introduced this week aims to provide financial protection and benefits to athletes at the wealthiest schools "who in some cases are left behind and taken advantage of," its author says.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) said the Collegiate Student Athlete Protection Act would target programs that generate at least $10 million in media rights, and benefit athletes including those who lose their scholarship due to injury.

"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," Cardenas told USA Today. "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."

Cardenas said he’s "not trying to make something that’s unfair" by focusing on athletes at the wealthiest schools, which can use media revenue to pay for the proposed measures.

"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," Cardenas said. "I want to make something that actually is relevant to the universities and colleges that are actually doing very well."

The bill, which is based on a law that took effect in California this year and is co-sponsored by Charles Rangel (D-NY), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), potentially would cover almost every school in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, and other powers including Notre Dame. Most of the schools already provide some benefits, but the bill would lock in greater guarantees.

It would apply to athletes with good academics and good behavior and provide them with full financial support for up to five years in case of injury or illness, or if they lost their scholarship due to being dismissed from the team. It also entails stricter standards for concussion testing, disciplinary appeals and transfers.

"We’ve not yet had a chance to fully review (Cardenas’) bill to comment specifically on its provisions," NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn told USA Today. "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."

It’s the second House bill on college sports introduced in the past few months. Rep. Charles Dent (R-Penn.) and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) authored one that calls for greater due process in cases of misconduct by programs and mandatory four-year scholarships for students who play contact sports. The NCAA also is facing lawsuits and pressure to pay athletes, plus a long-running anti-trust case about its ability to license athletes’ names and likenesses.

The California State Assembly will consider a bill next year that would require all public schools with at least $20 million in media and licensing revenue to give five-year scholarships to all athletes, covering the cost of attending school plus providing a stipend of $3,600.

Cardenas said his experience trying to push this year’s state legislation through convinced him the time to act was now.

"What happened was (legislators) found that there was a tremendous amount of resistance," Cardenas said. "There were some schools that said, ‘We, as an individual school, we do the right thing anyway. Why do you need a law?’"