Bill in Congress Aims to Give NCAA Athletes Greater Protections

Washington — Legislation introduced on Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives would require the NCAA’s member colleges to guarantee multiyear scholarships to high-profile players, and to provide athletes with increased safety and due-process protections.

The National Collegiate Athletics Accountability Act, HR 2903—introduced by Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Democrat from Ohio—would also require NCAA institutions to perform baseline concussion tests on athletes who play high-contact sports, including football, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse.

Current NCAA guidelines urge colleges to perform such baseline tests. According to the results of a 2010 NCAA survey, about two-thirds of institutions already do so.

The Congressional measure would also require the NCAA to provide member colleges and students with the opportunity for a formal administrative hearing and appeal before issuing any penalties for alleged rules violations.

Failure to adhere to the new requirements would jeopardize any money that the institutions receive under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Ms. Beatty said at a news conference here.

“It is time for the NCAA to return to its charge of protecting student-athletes and providing a stronger foundation for administering competition and meting out punishment in a more systematic manner,” the representatives said in a written statement. “This bill will ensure that students—the individuals the NCAA is charged to protect—will, once again, come first in college athletics.”

In a statement, the NCAA said that its member-created rules and processes were in place to “provide a fair competition environment and protect the safety and well-being of student-athletes, a responsibility we take very seriously.”

The association already permits Division I colleges to offer multiyear aid to athletes. Such scholarships, however, are not required.

Nearly two-thirds of the 56 most powerful Division I public universities now offer multiyear awards, according to a recent Chronicle review of public records. Yet few of those institutions do so for more than a handful of athletes.

Representatives Beatty and Dent said that many athletes were afraid to admit to having suffered concussions and other injuries, for fear that their scholarships might not be renewed. Their bill would guarantee players in high-contact sports up to four years of aid, which could not be revoked for reasons related to athletic skill or injury.

“This legislation would require colleges to honor their promise of a four-year scholarship,” Ms. Beatty said. “It is time to make this the rule and not the exception.”

Mr. Dent, a five-term lawmaker who criticized the NCAA’s punishment of Pennsylvania State University in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, said the bill would prevent the association from penalizing institutions without a fair hearing.

“In the case of Penn State, they at least would’ve had the benefit of an NCAA investigation. They never had one—not to mention an appeal,” he said. “We have such a hodgepodge of activity by this organization, nobody seems to understand what the rules are.”

Ms. Beatty, who is serving her first term in Congress, represents a district that includes Columbus, Ohio. She previously worked four years as senior vice president for outreach and engagement at Ohio State University.

In an interview after the news conference, she said her interest in providing athletes with more rights came from watching players get injured.

“When you think about engagement, you can’t remove sports. Part of our job was to be at every game,” she said. “Sitting at football and basketball games and watching people unfortunately get hurt gave me firsthand knowledge of how we should work for the health and safety, and of course education, of the students.”

Representatives Beatty and Dent said that they were not aware of a companion bill in the Senate, and that their measure currently had six co-sponsors.

[This post was updated to include comment from the NCAA.]

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