Athletic Management, 13.5, August/September 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1305/bbgroup.htm
This summer, the Collegiate Athletes Coalition, formed by UCLA football players early this year, enlisted student-athletes at three other university sports programs: Oregon, Arizona State, and Stanford. And with the backing of the United Steelworkers of America union, the CAC says it will continue to organize on other campuses to build a national players’ organization and bring attention to what it believes are inequities in NCAA rules governing the lives of student-athletes.
How far it will get with its suggested NCAA rule changes is unclear. But the group is bringing attention to sensitive issues regarding athletes’ off-the-field lives and raising questions about how coaching staffs and athletic administrators should respond.
The group is being led by former student-athletes. With their eligibility completed, the organizers are able to accept more help from the Steelworkers than can current players. The Steelworkers have flown organizers to prospective new-member campuses and is lending its name to press releases as well as offering advice.
Despite the CAC’s involvement with the Steelworkers, its leaders don’t use the term “union” and say they don’t intend to strike or boycott games or practices. “We can’t be considered a union because we can’t officially be considered employees,” says Ryan Roques, who finished his UCLA football career in 2000 and is now the CAC’s organizing director. “We are more of a players’ association. We contact players and encourage them to form official student groups on their campus.”
Group organizers say their beef is with NCAA rules, not specific coaches or athletic administrators. They believe that NCAA limits on the size of stipends schools can include in scholarship packages to cover non-educational costs—transportation, off-campus housing, food, incidentals like laundry—are unfair, as is the $2,000 limit on outside income from jobs during the academic year.
They also object to the NCAA’s policy against schools providing health care coverage for off-season non-mandatory workouts not organized by the university. While technically voluntary, these strength workouts, in reality, can’t be missed without repercussions, Roques says.
Two things brought the feelings to a head, Roques explains: A $10,000 limit on life insurance for players, which they learned of after the death of Florida State linebacker Devaughn Darling; and the suspension of a then-teammate for accepting free groceries.
The CAC asserts that at a time when universities and the NCAA appear to be thriving with television contracts, licensing, and other revenues, players seem to have little voice on rules that can leave them struggling to get by. “We don’t believe a player should have to take free groceries,” Roques says.
In response, the CAC has developed these proposed reforms:
• Full health-care coverage during the off-season and for voluntary practices.
• Increasing the limit on NCAA life insurance coverage.
• Increasing monthly stipends commensurate with the minimum amounts necessary for meeting basic living expenses—as determined by each school’s financial aid office.
• Elimination of the restrictions that limit what jobs players can work in and how much they can earn during the academic year.
• Creation of an employment program designed to encourage academic achievement and aid graduating students in their pursuit of careers outside of sports.
These are issues the NCAA has addressed or has under review anyway, says Public Information Coordinator Jane Jankowski. For example, student-athletes may receive funds for certain medical expenses, including surgery, for injuries resulting from voluntary academic-year activities and for voluntary off-season workouts away from school facilities that have been outlined by university personnel, such as a strength coach. And the NCAA is reviewing coverage for summer activities not conducted by school personnel.
In terms of the $2,000 limit on outside earnings, the rule isn’t applicable during vacations and the summer. As for life insurance, “the NCAA’s catastrophic insurance policy is not designed to be a primary policy,” says Jankowski, but to cover burial expenses.
Part of why the CAC is getting attention, however, is not just its agenda. Instead, it’s the fact that players are involved in an organization outside the NCAA framework. Roques charges that the NCAA-mandated Student-Athlete Advisory Committees (SAACs) aren’t effective. He says that he didn’t even hear about UCLA’s SAAC until his third year at school, and there was no orientation for it.
Jankowski disputes this. She notes that the SAAC system has been expanded to have committees for each NCAA division, conference, and campus, and that expanded voting opportunities for them are being explored. She adds that student-athletes have seats on committees dealing with issues raised by the CAC.
“We have a structure in place that allows student-athletes to work among themselves and with athletic administrators,” Jankowski says. “We are always interested in ways that we can make it better.”
The CAC’s non-NCAA affiliation has also made some athletic staff wary of the organization. And coaches’ and administrators’ trepidation toward the CAC is understandable, says Tim Waters, a student-groups liaison with the United Steelworkers of America. “But the ones who have sat down and taken a hard look have said this is interesting. This isn’t players telling coaches what time practices will be,” says Waters.
At UCLA, Ramogi Huma, the former Academic All-America linebacker and current graduate student who is the CAC’s chairman, met early with athletic administrators to discuss his plans. Athletic staff worked with him to help him understand the NCAA structure, its legislative process, and the historical background of the issues he wanted addressed, according to Sports Information Director Marc Dellins.
Since then, UCLA coaches and officials have declined to comment because, as CAC members point out, the issues involve the NCAA, not campus athletic programs.
At Stanford University, where the CAC announced the formation of a chapter among basketball players, administrators and coaches have largely stayed out of it. Athletic Director Ted Leland told ESPN.com, “It would be hard for Stanford to oppose any of those issues.”
Although Division I athletic directors have, so far, declined to comment much on the CAC, they may soon need a game plan of response. “We will be having some other schools come out in the Midwest and on the East Coast,” Roques says. “I would say in the next couple months we should have a good number of schools come on.”
More information on the CAC can be found at www.studentgroups.ucla.edu/cac/