On Friday afternoon, IU athletic director Fred Glass revealed a student-athlete Bill of Rights for Indiana University. The university calls its Bill of Rights an "unprecedented" document, and I can't think of any other athletic program that has previously publicized a similar agreement. The bill consists of 10 points that include education cost, scholarship commitments, health and academic support, and giving a voice to Hoosier athletes. The full document, which became effective immediately, can be viewed here. Let's examine what's in this Bill of Rights, and how it reflects the changing realities of college athletics.
The most newsworthy part of the release is the four-year scholarship commitment. Basically, IU is committing itself to paying for the full cost of a student-athlete's education while in Bloomington, regardless of whether they suffer a career-ending injury or turn pro. Having the scholarship for four years seemingly ensures the commitment of IU to its recruit, not only as an athlete but also as a student. Adding on to this is the "Hoosiers for Life" commitment from the university. Basically, if an IU student has an athletic scholarship and doesn't finish up his or her degree in four years, the same student can return later in life to finish up the degree. Additionally, the document mentions a "miscellaneous expense allowance" for student-athletes to cover any other necessary costs.
Other wellness benefits are included for the students in this Bill of Rights. In the document, IU emphasizes the academic services that will be available for student-athletes, and states that student-athletes will be provided with an iPad. Additionally, section five of the Bill of Rights covers a plethora of health and safety benefits for student-athletes. These include health care coverage for all student-athletes, comprehensive physicals, and an emphasis on nutrition. Another important element of this Bill of Rights is the collective voice aspect in section nine. This seemingly shows the university's commitment to student-athlete concerns, and Glass has stated that a player will be on the search committee for Tracy Smith's replacement.
This student-athlete Bill of Rights comes during a crucial time for college athletics. Like it or not, college athletics has become a huge business, especially over the past couple decades. The rise of cable television and the increased availability of sporting events have increased revenue for universities and their conferences. This has led to more demand out of the student-athletes as well. One thing that stuck out from when I read Season on the Brink was that in the Big Ten of the 1980s, teams played twice a week - usually Thursday and Saturday - and were paired up with another nearby team to make road trips more compact (i.e. IU would play at Iowa and at Minnesota over the same weekend). In today's B1G, where games need to fit into TV schedules of multiple networks, and where a team could be playing in Nebraska one week and New Jersey the next, this schedule isn't going to happen. I'm not saying that one scenario is better than the other, but I'm just trying to reflect the reality of the current situation.
Thus, while having a model that stresses amateurism and the "student" portion of the student-athlete, the NCAA ultimately is profiting and doing quite well for itself. The Ed O'Bannon Trial, an antitrust case in which arguments recently wrapped up, has been fought in court over whether student-athletes are entitled to some of these profits, due to their likeness being shown on television and in video games. Although the outcome of the O'Bannon Trial remains to be seen, the NCAA's current model is being challenged in other ways. Former Northwestern QB Kain Colter led a push to unionize student-athletes on his campus during the spring, arguing for similar benefits to the ones set forth in the IU Bill of Rights.
As a result of these developments, the Big Ten and Jim Delany - who was a witness for the NCAA in the O'Bannon Trial - have seemingly taken notice. Earlier last week, the conference released a statement arguing for more student-athlete benefits. Many of the benefits proposed by the conference, including the four-year scholarship commitment and lifetime degree opportunity, are also in the IU Bill of Rights. While larger changes may be coming to student-athletes and to the NCAA in the next few years, the Bill of Rights is a welcome sign that Indiana University is demonstrating a commitment to providing important benefits to student-athletes. I have to credit Fred Glass, President McRobbie, and other IU leaders for the commitment to student-athlete success that this Bill of Rights sets forth, both on and off the court.