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Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Indiana's bill of rights a way forward?

By Brian Bennett

Indiana athletic director Fred Glass says he was only focused on his own university and not the problems facing college sports in general when he came up with the unique student-athlete bill of rights that the Hoosiers unveiled Friday afternoon. But if Glass' document ends up being like another famous bill of rights and becomes a model for others to follow, he would be happy to play the role of founding father.

"Our real focus was, frankly, more internal," he told ESPN.com. "But if the ancillary benefit is sort of like Macy's and Gimbels in 'Miracle on 34th Street' and other people embrace what we do because of the marketplace, that would be awesome. And if there are more conversations about how we can do even more, that would be great."

Fred Glass
Indiana AD Fred Glass has fashioned a student-athlete bill of rights for his institution that could stand as a model for others.
How much more players should receive is the overwhelming hot-button topic in college sports right now. The NCAA is currently on trial in the Ed O'Bannon case, while Northwestern got the go-ahead to pursue a labor union earlier this year. Other lawsuits are brewing, and power conferences are lobbying to write their own rules so they can give more benefits to players.

Glass acknowledged that the current climate in college sports certainly played a role as he penned his first draft of the bill of rights while sitting poolside in Florida with his wife over spring break. Yet the overriding impetus, he said, was simply making sure his school made it clear and transparent to players and recruits what it would offer to them.

Those benefits include a guaranteed four-year scholarship for every athlete on campus; a "Hoosiers for Life" program that lets former players come back and finish their degree free of charge; a voice for players in the athletic department through a student-athlete advisory committee; comprehensive medical coverage during a player's career; and free iPads and tailored blazers.

Many of the points in the bill of rights echo the Big Ten's stance on reform, which the league's presidents and chancellors outlined in a formal statement earlier last week.

"I think the conference has been a huge leader on this," Glass said. "I was sort of amused that people would say the Big Ten presidents' statement was a reaction to the O'Bannon trial. [Commissioner] Jim Delany has been talking about these things for three years."

Glass, who was a successful attorney and civic leader before becoming the Hoosiers' AD in 2009, said he did not work with the conference while establishing his bill of rights. He did call Delany and a senior NCAA administrator the day before releasing the document to the public and said both were "very enthusiastic."

The cost of these initiatives, which went into effect immediately, are not insignificant. The lifetime degree guarantee, for example, was grandfathered in to include all former players. So it's possible that someone who played baseball in the 1960s or ran track in the 1970s could walk through Glass' door tomorrow and ask to resume his coursework. Indiana not only will cover tuition for all former players who left in good standing after two years without transferring, but those former Hoosiers also will receive access to all the tutoring and academic advising programs that current players receive.

"I think this really cuts against the sort of unfair caricature of universities where people say we take these kids, take what we can get out of them, and as soon as we're done with them we kind of wad them up and throw them away," he said.

The bill of rights echoes many of the demands of CAPA, the organization behind the Northwestern labor union push. One thing missing is the call for medical coverage for players after their careers have ended for injuries related to their playing days. Glass said Indiana officials believe that's a sensible benefit to explore but that the costs could be so high that "it would be beyond the ability of any one school. It's going to take a collective solution, probably involving NCAA reserve funds and maybe a broad-based insurance policy."

It's highly unlikely that this bill of rights will provide any sort of panacea to the many issues revolving around college sports. The document does not, for example, address the image and likeness rights that are being weighed in the O'Bannon trial.

But Indiana, which reaps many financial rewards from belonging to the Big Ten but does not make nearly as much money as other league schools that have successful football programs and large stadiums, could serve as a model for the rest of the conference to follow. Many Big Ten schools already are doling out several of the benefits Indiana spells out, and schools like Michigan and Ohio State not only can afford to do more, they want to do so.  (And if not or until then, Glass admits, the bill of rights might provide the Hoosiers a small recruiting advantage).

Glass is not a revolutionary. He wants to see tweaks made to the college sports model and believes players should receive a bigger slice of the pie. But he does not want the entire system overhauled.

"I think we throw the baby out with the bath water in totally changing the intercollegiate athletic model and go to pay-for-play or become a developmental league," he said. "Then the special sauce is going to go out of the deal. The reason I think we care about intercollegiate athletics is that, to one extent or another, these kids are real students. Certainly in the Big Ten they're real students. And that's why we love it, because we were students at these schools. And if suddenly they become hired guns, that will start a fairly rapid decline, and suddenly people will not care that much about it."

Indiana's student-athlete bill of rights is not going to save college sports from itself. But it does at least represent a step in the right direction.