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Student Athletes 'Bill Of Rights': Is It Risky Business?

The Hoosiers have announced a new 10-point student-athlete bill of rights for immediate implementation. Could a similar plan be coming to your favorite MAC campus any time soon?

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Dave Reginek

Jim Tressel must be ready to spit out his teeth. The former Ohio State head football coach lost his job when some of his players traded Buckeye swag for tattoos. According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana athletics director Fred Glass has recently announced a 10-point bill of rights for student-athletes which includes furnishing all of them with personal  iPads.  What's the difference between the tattoos that brought down Tressel and the swag offered by the Hoosiers to their constituent student-athletes? The answer may be that Hoosier swag comes to the student-athletes from the Indiana athletic department, rather than from the streets.

Glass claims that the idea of a 10-point bill of rights came to him "when he was struck by how little the parents knew of the benefits and guarantees of a scholarship" according to the Indianapolis Star. Indiana's plan also includes legacy costs in the form of multi-year scholarships, tuition, books and fees. Something called the "Hoosiers for Life" program will guarantee former student-athletes the right to pursue a degree at Indiana if they meet certain criteria. Also included in Glass' plan are comprehensive health care coverage and nutritional support for all student-athletes.

In the spirit of anything a Hoosier can do, we can double down on and then some. USC has offered to guarantee its football players and men's and women's basketball players four-year scholarships effective July 1, 2014, according to the Orange County Register. "In taking this action, USC hopes to lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field," said USC athletic director Pat Hayden.

Hayden's thinking was echoed by NCAA President Mark Emmert, who told a Senate committee last week that he supports "scholarships for life" and other reforms in how athletes are treated.

What does all of this mean to the hard working folks in the MAC offices in Cleveland and their collaborating athletic directors? For the short term, not much. Just because USC has decided to bite off more than it can chew does not mean that anyone in the MAC has to imitate the behavior. In fact, now might be a very good time for MAC to be guarding its pocket books.

Here's why: The uncertainty that is the O'Bannon case is still a real threat to all NCAA member institutions. Final written arguments have been submitted by the parties. A decision by the trial judge is not expected for more than another month. There may be any number of ways that the pies known as "NCAA sources of revenue" get sliced. It is also possible, but not likely, that the pie does not get sliced at all, and the NCAA owes the O'Bannon plaintiffs nothing. USC and Indiana are out on the short branches in that event because they are stuck with legacy costs for trying to beat the rush to the O'Bannon judgment.

If the O'Bannon plaintiffs are successful, there has to be a method to parse out the NCAA sources of revenue. Almost certainly, calls would go out for for the creation of a collective bargaining unit that is NCAA wide. In theory, this would put the MAC on the same footing as all other NCAA conferences, as there will have to be a single uniform revenue sharing package. So, it makes sense for the MAC to ride the tide that is the O'Bannon litigation and stay with the pack upon its resolution.

It is unlikely that a student-athlete bill of rights, Hoosier or Trojan-style, will be adopted by a MAC member any time soon. Given the conference's limited financial resources, a spending spree ahead of an uncertain litigation result makes no sense. Besides, no one yet is discussing the hard choices to be made in order to pay for it.

The MAC has a competitive advantage over the five biggest conferences in that it already runs lean. The spending proposed by Glass, Hayden and Emmert has the potential to put some major college athletic programs out of business. These proposals are also off-target in that they are not focused on the basic mission of collegiate athletics which is to provide a four-year degree while the student participates in athletics. So, the MAC can differentiate itself with something along the lines of #MACtion. Maybe #WhereYouWillGraduateWithAValuableDegreeWhileYouareStillYoung.

Below are some points to consider as part of an overall MAC Plan for academic, athletic and financial sustainability. Many of these points take advantage of existing resources so that the spending suggested by Green, Hayden and Emmert can be minimized.

Share Research: Collectively, the MAC has a powerhouse of scientific capabilities to combat the long-lasting effects of sports injuries with new treatments and therapies.

Establish a Core Curriculum: The MAC can establish itself as a leader in offering meaningful educational opportunities to student-athletes by continually upgrading a mandatory core curriculum that will be relevant to the market place upon graduation.

Buy in Bulk: The MAC Commissioner can purchase a single-premium health insurance policy that will cover those student-athletes with lingering sports related injuries.

Annuitize Now: To the greatest extent possible, contain educational legacy costs for multi-year scholarships by financially planning for them immediately.

Emphasize Mentoring: The members of the All-MAC Academic Teams are the brightest lights in the constellation of star student-athletes. They should be encouraged to mentor their fellow student athletes and share their methods of obtaining academic success.

Let's get back to our roots: Many MAC coaches used to come from the ranks of teachers before they became members of the coaching profession. We have lost something with the advent of specialization where the duties of a head coach are to coach, coach, coach and recruit, recruit, recruit. To the greatest extent possible, the MAC should promote academic diversity among its coaching ranks. One semester per year send head coaches into the classroom to teach a class in a subject other than the sport that they coach. It was good enough for Charlie Coles, it's good enough for everyone else.

Let's Honor Roy's Legacy: Before he created the BCS and was the Commissioner of the SEC, Roy F. Kramer was a high school history teacher in small-town Michigan. Kramer was underestimated by many due to his laconic speech. It turned out that Kramer is a genius whose ideas generated hundreds of  millions of dollars for college athletic departments. The MAC could use a few more Kramers right now. A Roy F. Kramer Award to recognize the MAC athletic program with the highest percentage of student-athletes graduating on time and obtaining full-time employment within six months of graduation would befit the man who launched a MAC juggernaut football program at Central Michigan.