LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California lawmaker is proposing that the state create a commission to protect the health and safety of collegiate athletes, something the legislation says the NCAA and school athletic departments have failed to do.
The commission and its rules would apply to every competing college athlete in the state, from a community college volleyball player to an NFL-bound university football star, and to injuries from lifelong brain degeneration to sprained ankles.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat, discussed the bill in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, the eve of the NCAA Tournament, the basketball extravaganza that is the organization's biggest showcase.
"March Madness is kicking off and millions of eyes will be glued on every moment of drama and athleticism on the court, but shockingly, despite the billions of dollars that college sports generates nationally, nobody is watching out for the health and safety of the players," Gonzalez Fletcher said.
Many of the regulations and guidelines would be created by the commission once it's established, but AB-1435, the Athlete Protection Act, lays out some specifics of its mission.
It would give special emphasis to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative neurological disease linked to football that has led to a $1 billion legal settlement in the NFL and serious scrutiny of the game at every level.
The bill says the NCAA "was originally founded to protect intercollegiate athletes, but now it denies that it has a duty to protect them, refuses to mandate comprehensive best practices regarding CTE and other serious injuries, and fails to enact remedies when made aware of athlete abuse."
The proposed commission would have a specialist in traumatic brain injuries as one of its nine appointed members and be allowed to establish practices to minimize it.
The panel's mandate would extend to all injuries and painkiller abuse, however, and require that every college and university maintain accurate medical records for each of its athletes.
The bill says coaches, athletic directors and medical staffers have inherent conflicts of interest that prompt them to pressure athletes to play in dangerous situations and need more oversight to prevent that.
"I am by no means trying to get rid of college football," Gonzalez Fletcher said. "I was a Stanford University cheerleader. I value college sports in ways that I think a lot of folks can't even realize — value it so much that (I) realize we have to change it."
The Pac-12 Conference, whose membership includes the most prominent universities in the state, said in a statement that it has not yet reviewed the bill but the conference has "been a leader on important initiatives around student-athlete health and reforming rules that govern student-athletes well-being, and we plan to continue our efforts to enhance the overall experience of student-athletes both in and out of the classroom."
The NCAA did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.
Along with a full-time executive director, the commission, funded by fees to athletic institutions, would have nine part-time members, with three apiece appointed by the governor and leader of each legislative house.
Its powers would also include:
— The ability to penalize people in athletic departments who violate its rules, either through civil fines or employment bans.
— Providing whistleblower protection for athletes or other students who report violations.
— Mandating that college employees report reasonably suspected violations.
— The right to conduct inspections to make sure its rules are being followed.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly's committee on arts, entertainment, sports, tourism and internet media as well as a committee on higher education.
Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed to this report.