Athletes Oppose California Bill
Don’t bar us from NCAA, they say.
SAY NAY: Bruce.
Exchanging their Speedos and football jerseys for dark business suits, swimmer Michael Bruce and linebacker David Bergeron, both ’04, traveled to the California General Assembly in January to ask legislators to vote nay on a so-called “student-athletes’ bill of rights.”
The bill, introduced by Democratic state senator Kevin Murray last year, was passed by the senate and is now in the higher education committee of the assembly. On the surface, it appears to support student-athletes. It mandates more coverage for athletic scholarships and health insurance, and it allows students to earn more money through employment, transfer without sitting out a year if their head coach leaves and hire agents to help them make decisions about whether to turn pro.
But the bill conflicts with NCAA rules, and if it became law, California schools would not be able to participate in the NCAA unless the organization amended its rules. No Rose Bowl. No March Madness. No NCAA revenue (a loss of $8 million for California’s four Pac-10 schools). In short, student-athletes say, a bad idea.
“We appreciate any efforts to increase student-athletes’ welfare, and we agree with a lot of the ideas Senator Murray has brought up,” Bruce says. “But we feel like student-athletes are being used as bargaining chips by the California legislature to pressure the NCAA into reformation.”
Bruce, a management science and engineering major, says SB 193 originally was presented as a protection for disadvantaged athletes. The NCAA was depicted as an institution that would go into lower-income neighborhoods, recruit talented athletes and train them for a few years, but not support them academically. “That’s why it generated a lot of momentum,” Bruce says. “Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t directly address those issues.”
Bruce, Bergeron and student-athletes from UC-Berkeley and the University of Southern California spent a full day talking with 11 of the higher education committee’s 13 members. After presenting a petition signed by more than 700 California student-athletes, the four students left Sacramento with promises from nine legislators that they would not vote the bill out of committee.
“We said, ‘Look, the NCAA is addressing these issues,’ ” Bruce says. The student-athletes pointed out that the NCAA is considering changes in scholarships and insurance, and also had recently instituted advisory committees to solicit student opinions.
Bruce thinks the student-athletes had a stealth weapon. “We didn’t have briefcases to carry, like a lot of lobbyists,” he says. “We just had our backpacks. But I think it made us look like we weren’t inside the system.”
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