State lawmakers on Wednesday approved first-in-the-nation legislation requiring California universities with the most high-profile sports programs to provide financial protections for student athletes who suffer career-ending injuries.
Schools would have to give academic scholarships to students who lose their athletic scholarships because of an injury suffered playing their sport. The bill also requires them to cover insurance deductibles and pay health care premiums for low-income athletes.
SB1525 would apply to universities that receive more than $10 million annually in sports media revenue. The bill would apply this year to the University of Southern California, Stanford University and the University of California campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley.
San Diego State University is likely to reach the $10 million threshold soon because it recently switched to a different conference with more lucrative television rights.
Stanford is the only school objecting, after Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, amended his bill to meet the concerns of the other universities.
"It applies just to four universities out of scores of institutions of higher education in California and fails to protect the rights of the vast majority of student-athletes," Patrick Dunkley, Stanford's interim athletic director, said in a letter of opposition last month. "Why should a Stanford football player have protections provided by law that are denied a football player at San Jose State?"
The state law would cover private universities such as Stanford and USC because they are chartered in California and offer students state and federal scholarships, said John Mann, Padilla's spokesman.
Padilla said California would be the first state to provide financial protections to injured student athletes on scholarship if Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill. The Senate sent it to him on a 24-10 vote.
"With this bill, California is leading by example," Padilla said in a statement. "Neither personal injury nor poverty should dim the dreams of a student-athlete pursuing a college degree, particularly when their performance has enriched their college."
There was no debate on the bill, but Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, said later that universities should be free to seek other ways to protect injured athletes.
"I think he has, at heart, maybe a nice concept there," said La Malfa. "The reason probably many of us didn't support it was because of the open-ended costs to the universities and to the scholarships there. I think there's other forms of health care that should be studied or pursued."