- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

California has taken the lead in a movement to vastly change rules regarding college sports and loosen income restrictions on athletes.

State Senate Bill 193 proposes to remove limits on scholarships and stipends, health insurance and the amount athletes can earn from employment outside their sport. The bill also calls for athletes to be able to use agents for career choices.

“The [NCAA] essentially treat these kids like plantation workers,” said Sen. Kevin Murray, a Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored the bill. “It’s because of these kids that billions of dollars are generated that go to schools, coaches, and the NCAA, yet the student scholarships don’t even cover basic living expenses. … These are some Draconian rules that I feel should be addressed.”

The measure, which could go before the General Assembly as early as January, passed the Senate by a 26-10 margin, with all 10 “nay” votes coming from Republicans. The proposed law would ban the state’s schools from entering into agreements with organizations (the NCAA) that set a cap on scholarships and job earnings not related to their sport.

California schools would be ineligible to compete in the NCAA under its current rules. Such a move would force the NCAA to change its rules or declare all California schools ineligible. If the latter happens, the state could set up its own governing body and compete with the NCAA.

“The entire system is designed to benefit the NCAA and presidents of universities, with very little going to students,” Murray said. “They are these faceless people in the NCAA who run college sports — a industry in the tens of billions [of dollars]. They have always opposed shots at their power. They operate like a foreign sovereign country.”

The NCAA has been slow to alter its view of amateurism but has taken steps recently to be more lenient. It is considering raising scholarships to cover a more realistic price of college living and established a $10million Special Assistance Fund to help athletes from lower-income families accommodate special needs.

The NCAA points to its own in-house student committee as its sounding board for student issues, and has not been receptive to outside scrutiny. The non-voting Student Athlete Advisory Council is made up of 31 athletes from various sports, each representing one Division I conference.

“The focus on issues should be raised by the NCAA Student Athlete Advisory Council,” said George Mason athletic director Tom O’Connor, a member of the NCAA Management Council. “There is a cost-of-living issue that should be looked at. It is a work in progress. … [The NCAA] is right on target. We are not professionals. We are all amateurs with the purpose of academics and graduation.”

Many coaches have suggested the NCAA should be more flexible. Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams believes the NCAA should allow schools to pay for lower-income students to bring their parents to major events like the NCAA tournaments or bowl games.

University of Colorado football player and U.S. Ski Team member Jeremy Bloom has raised the issue of limiting income if it is not related to his sport. Bloom competed in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics as a skier and was denied ski-related endorsements in the six figures to retain his college football eligibility.

“I don’t think there should be a limit if it doesn’t affect them academically,” Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser said. “If he were a mathematician and drew up a new Pythagorean theorem, he could make more money. This is America. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

California is the most powerful state to take on the NCAA. Smaller states and ones with fewer universities have introduced proposals against NCAA rules.

Nebraska passed a law this year that allows for stipends for college football players, but the rule is contingent on four other states with Big 12 Conference schools passing similar bills. Iowa has a proposal to allow stipends to football players. Texas has a bill that would broaden financial assistance to athletes.

The idea to redefine college amateurism is hardly new, but has gained momentum with the California initiative and attention by Bloom.

One of the founders of the current movement is Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who started the College Athletes Coalition in 2001. The CAC now has chapters on 15 campuses including UCLA, USC, California and Stanford and is backed by the United Steelworkers Union.

The CAC was designed to unite football and basketball players and get them involved in student-athlete issues. They are to lobby for stipends, year-round health insurance and the ability to earn unlimited income from sources outside their sports. CAC would like to see transfer rules relaxed so football and basketball players can transfer without penalty if their coach leaves a school.

Huma’s group would also like to see star athletes get a cut when jerseys or other products are sold with their name and numbers.

The issues around the NCAA continue to simmer. California lawmakers soon will decide whether to bring the issues to a boil.

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