College Athletes to NCAA: Prioritize Player Health and Safety

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College Athletes to NCAA: Prioritize Player Health and Safety
portrait of Dean Golembeski
by Dean Golembeski
Published on October 20, 2021


A recent survey shows college athletes and presidents have different ideas on what the NCAA should prioritize as it develops a new governance model.

Athletes say that player health and safety should be the NCAA's top priorities. They rank creating inclusive and equitable environments as next in importance, followed by competitive equity. College presidents surveyed have different ideas, however, putting athlete eligibility at the top of their list, followed by the academic experience, and then the health and safety of athletes.

These are among the key takeaways from a recent survey conducted by the NCAA as it prepares to rewrite its constitution next month. Listening to the priorities cited by students and administrators will help the NCAA determine its future as it seeks to retain its hold as a governing body for intercollegiate athletics.

Len Elmore, a well-known sports figure and an advocate for reforming collegiate sports, told BestColleges that he is not surprised by the different priorities held by students and administrators. But he also noted that both groups favor a central authority to manage championships and other key functions.

"The survey is asking about the role of the NCAA as a governing body with the student-athlete leaders seemingly desiring an authority figure to promulgate rules and enforce them uniformly. The presidents' interests are, apparently, in recognizing, implicitly and expressly, that individual institutions also have responsibilities," said Elmore.

Elmore is a co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a senior lecturer at Columbia University, a former basketball All-American at The University of Maryland at College Park, and a former player with the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association. He also has a law degree from Harvard Law School and has been a sports announcer for more than three decades.

He says that college athletes "should rightly be concerned with efforts to prioritize methods that improve health and safety." He also believes that any improvements to athlete health and safety policies should include offering players health insurance and mental health assistance.

"Right now the current approach to health and safety is inadequate in college sports," Elmore said. "Without the confidence of health and safety adequacy and beyond, how can athletes perform their best in the classroom and on the playing surface?"

He also speculated about the presidents' ranking of health and safety as a third priority. It doesn't necessarily mean that the issue is not important to them, he said, but rather that each institution already responds to those issues individually.

"The presidents' placement of health and safety or equity and inclusion a bit farther down the list of priorities behind eligibility and academic experience doesn't necessarily minimize their importance. It simply may evince a belief that ... health and safety and equity and inclusion are cases for institutional action as much (or more) as it is for a central authority," he added.

He said the presidents' chief concerns appear to be based on the enforcement of rules that govern fairness and eligibility.

"It seems that from the President's perspective, maintaining a fair and level competitive playing field is accomplished by policing eligibility for all members, something that institutions cannot do on their own and nor do they trust competitors to do. The presidents seem to want assurance that all college athletes are students first,' Elmore said.

The NCAA survey comes after several tumultuous months involving athlete complaints, a U.S. Supreme Court case that the NCAA lost, and a rule change that allows athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness.

The survey was designed to help the NCAA's Constitution Committee, which has been working since Aug. 17, 2021, to draft a new governance model. A total of 1,362 student-athletes and 3,492 college administrators — including presidents, faculty, athletic directors, and healthcare providers — participated in the survey.

"Across the membership, a substantial majority (over three-quarters) within each role by division agreed that the following principles were central to the future of the NCAA as a governing body: conducting national championships, the primacy of the academic experience in policy and decision making, sport-specific rules for competition and participation, standards for allocating national revenue, standards for college athlete eligibility, and standards for college athlete health and safety," the NCAA said in its summary of the survey's findings.

The NCAA has scheduled a virtual Special Convention on Nov. 15 to allow its members to consider and discuss the Constitution Committee's draft proposal. Following the convention, the committee will make revisions and submit its final draft to the NCAA Board of Governors by Dec. 15. NCAA members will then vote on a new constitution at the annual NCAA Convention in Indianapolis in January 2022.


Feature Image: Gaelen Morse / Contributor / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

After a defeat in the Supreme Court, the NCAA is struggling to keep its hold on college sports as student-athletes and Congress demand changes. College athletes usually bear the cost of medical insurance, unless they're a likely top draft pick. Now, student-athletes are pushing for change in the NCAA's insurance policies. College football season kicked off with thousands of fans packing stadiums, putting many at risk of coronavirus exposure in a climate of lax COVID-19 guidelines and policies.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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