HARTFORD, Conn. – State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the University of Connecticut to continue paying for the education of athletes who lose their scholarships due to injury, illness or even a coach's decision.
The bill, now before legislature's higher education committee, is modeled after a law passed last year in California. It would require any school that receives more than $5 million through the sale of media rights to use some of that revenue to educate students who have lost athletic scholarships.
The bill is authored by the majority leader in the state Senate, Martin Looney, who acknowledged the target is UConn. He said the legislation also would apply to students who have used up their athletic eligibility but are still in the process of pursuing their degree.
"I just want to make sure that these students, who contribute a great deal to the financially robust athletic program at UConn, are not in any way disadvantaged by their participation as student athletes," said Looney, D-New Haven.
Looney said he's not aware of UConn ever dropping a student because of injury, but wants to make sure it never happens. He said he also supports adding language to the bill that would ensure athletes don't lose scholarships simply to make way for better athletes.
UConn opposed the legislation at a recent public hearing. Athletic Director Warde Manuel, in written testimony, said the school needs flexibility in managing its scholarships.
He said UConn already gives money to athletes who have exhausted their eligibility but are still working toward a degree "when funds and resources permit."
He also called it redundant to NCAA policy.
The NCAA allows the school to keep injured or ill students on scholarship without it counting against the total number of grants a school can offer, he noted. And, he pointed out that the NCAA has an appeals process for students who lose their scholarships based on an injury or illness.
But Allen Sack, a professor of sports management at the University of New Haven, said most schools, including UConn, only offer one-year renewable athletic scholarships. Students, he said, have no legal protection should a school decide not to renew that scholarship.
Coaches at some schools use the threat of not renewing a scholarship to force the transfer of students that aren't meeting their expectations on the court or playing field, he said. And a law, he said, would end that practice.
Sack, who played football at Notre Dame in the 1960s, said it would also put pressure on schools such as UConn to take advantage of a recently passed NCAA rule that allows them to offer four-year, rather than one-year, scholarships.
"It's an embarrassment that we don't have laws and rules like this at every big-time school in the country," he said. "This should be a basic benefit."
Looney said he's not sure he can get the bill passed this year, but believes it's important to at least begin having the conversation within the legislature.