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.