Indiana University (IU) has created the first prominent “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights,” which formally identifies rights guaranteed by IU to its student-athletes during their time at the university and beyond. Indiana University’s Bill of Rights addresses concerns held by current student-athletes and encourages prospective student-athletes to attend IU by expanding its commitment in numerous phases of student-athlete well-being and development.

The Bill of Rights, comprised of ten guaranteed rights, features these key provisions: (1) Four Year Scholarship Commitment-the guarantee of four-year scholarships to all student-athletes in “head count” sports; (2) Lifetime Degree Guarantee-the creation of a program under which IU will pay the tuition of student-athletes who leave the University before graduating, but return later to complete their degree; (3) Collective Voice-Student-athletes will be given a guaranteed voice through the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including input on searches for new head coaches; (4) Comprehensive Health Safety and Wellness-Comprehensive physical exam, including screening echocardiogram and baseline concussion testing before beginning competition and all medically related services for any injuries or illnesses suffered during competition are provided free of charge to the student-athlete. (5)Cutting Edge Technology-the promise of a tablet, such as an iPad, to all student-athletes as well as internal internship opportunities.

As Fred Glass, IU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics stated,

“We are proud to be the first higher education institution ever to publish a Student-Athlete Bill of Rights. We have committed to this extensive set of benefits and set it out transparently in writing, so we can be held accountable for them…”

This Bill of Rights likely is responding, at least in part, to the unionization efforts of Northwestern University football players earlier this year. It explicitly addresses two issues raised by the Northwestern football players: student-athletes’ role in athletic governance and medical treatment for student-athletes. IU, by stating its commitment to providing a “voice” to student-athletes and protecting their health and safety, may be hoping to make student-athletes focus on the benefits already being provided to them by IU instead of  thinking about the possibility of using a union to express their concerns and issues.

The school claims it is the first institution to create a bill of rights for student-athletes, but it is unlikely to be the last. Other institutions may create their own bills of rights to address student-athlete concerns, dissuade student-athletes from engaging in labor organizing campaigns, and encourage prospective student-athletes to attend the institution. However, despite the benefits of a student-athlete bill of rights, institutions must be careful in drafting such a document.

Institutions should keep in mind compliance with NCAA regulations and possible contract claims that may be created. It is critical that all provisions within the bill of rights comply with NCAA regulations. IU’s promise of a tablet, such as an iPad, to all student-athletes likely is permissible under NCAA Bylaw 16.3.1, which allows institutions to finance academic support for students. Institutions interested in providing similar accessories to student-athletes must be certain that doing so would be likewise permissible under NCAA regulations and would not constitute an impermissible benefit. For example, while institutions likely can provide student-athletes with iPads, the issuance of iPhones probably would be impermissible and a violation of NCAA regulations.

Courts may deem a student-athlete bill of rights an enforceable contract between the institution and its student-athletes. Therefore, institutions must be certain they can follow through with any promises made in their bill of rights. Institutions must carefully consider both the financial and logistical ramifications of any provision.

Colleges and universities interested in following IU’s lead must be pragmatic in doing so and consider seeking outside guidance.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.