Earlier this month, The New York Times highlighted Baylor University President Ken Starr’s growing role in defending the institution of college athletics amid concerns such as student-athletes’ injuries, academic preparation and arguably the most contentious issue in college sports today — whether to pay student-athletes. Twice during his Baylor presidency he has drawn on his legal background to help keep the Big 12 together. In May the former federal judge and solicitor general (whose principal deputy in the latter post was John G. Roberts Jr., now chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) testified against unionization of student-athletes before the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee. This fall Starr furnished written answers to questions from the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation concerning reforms on college campuses involving athletics. Below is a condensed transcript of Starr’s written responses to the committee.
Q Does Baylor provide or will it provide multi-year or four-year scholarships to student-athletes?
A Baylor provides multi-year scholarships to a limited number of student-athletes in several sports and is drafting a new multi-year scholarship agreement for use in all university-sponsored sports. Currently, the award of a multi-year scholarship is market-driven based on demand from the student-athlete and offers he/she might receive from a competing institution. The prevalence of multi-year awards will, in our view, be driven by market demands in student-athlete recruiting. Current National Collegiate Athletic Association legislation protects the student-athlete by providing that a grant-in-aid, whether a one-year or multi-year scholarship, will not be cancelled by virtue of poor athletic performance. Baylor anticipates that its revised multi-year scholarship contract will contain cancellation provisions for the following reasons: Academic ineligibility; loss of eligibility for other reasons under NCAA by-laws; personal misconduct of a significant or repeated nature, whether criminal or violation of Baylor student code of conduct; violation of NCAA, conference, athletic department and team rules; or voluntary withdrawal from the team or the university.
Q Does Baylor provide permanent student-athlete scholarships that are not revoked once a player is injured while participating in a sanctioned sports-related event?
A Current NCAA rules prohibit revocation of a grant-in-aid due to athletically related injury or incapacity. Baylor does not offer any permanent scholarships; post-participation scholarships are generally renewed at the same percentage awarded prior to the injury and will be renewed so long as the student-athlete maintains adequate progress toward a degree as defined by NCAA rules.
Q Does your university allow or plan to allow student-athletes to complete all coursework, at no cost to the student-athletes, to acquire an academic degree after they exhaust their eligibility to participate in athletics?
A Baylor continues scholarship support to student-athletes in all sponsored sports at the level previously awarded for both “fifth-year” (eligibility remaining after “redshirt”) and student-athletes who have exhausted eligibility, provided they meet academic eligibility standards. Some student-athletes may qualify for post-graduate scholarship awards while exhausting their remaining eligibility. Baylor also offers scholarships to former student-athletes who are outside of the NCAA’s “5-year window” of athletic aid. These are typically former student-athletes who have left Baylor without graduating to pursue a career in professional sports. When their professional athletic career has concluded and they desire to return to the university in order to obtain their undergraduate degree, Baylor offers a scholarship consisting of full tuition, required fees and books. This scholarship requires that the exhausted eligibility student-athlete maintain full-time enrollment and achieve a minimum semester grade-point average of 2.0 to renew the scholarship.
Q Does Baylor University provide comprehensive health care coverage to student-athletes during their time there and afterward for all sports-related injuries?
A Baylor provides comprehensive coverage for sports-related non-catastrophic injuries to all student-athletes, whether receiving a full or partial grant-in-aid or a non-scholarship walk-on and has done so for over 20 years. Also, it provides medical care for non-sports related, non-catastrophic injury or illness while enrolled as well as dental care for sports-related dental injuries. Baylor’s insurance program is secondary to any health or medical payments coverage under which the student-athlete is a beneficiary. The program is handled through coordinating benefits between Baylor and the student-athlete’s insurer (if any). No time limit is imposed with respect to the Baylor-provided coverage, so long as a clear and traceable nexus exists between the injury and the condition for which treatment is sought. Each NCAA member institution in good standing, without additional cost to the institution, receives catastrophic injury coverage. That coverage potentially provides up to $20 million in lifetime benefits, subject to certain exclusions and a deductible, which Baylor would pay if the student-athlete’s own insurance, if any, did not provide such coverage.
Q Has Baylor University adopted and enforced protocols that minimize the risk of sports-related head injuries?
A Baylor has in place a concussion protocol which we believe meets or exceeds the standard concussion protocol developed by the NCAA and the College Athletic Trainers Society. Baylor’s protocol includes baseline testing for all student-athletes (regardless of scholarship support) prior to commencement of the student-athlete’s first practice upon entry into the program; having multiple trainers and/or physicians both at practices and competitions, each of whom possesses authority to end the student-athlete’s day without input or override from a coach or athletic department staff member; withholding a student-athlete from practice or competition for the required number of days following the last day on which a student-athlete was symptomatic; and decision-making authority to return to practice/competition resting solely with a qualified physician.
Q Does Baylor enforce, or have plans to enforce, strict time limitations on athletics-related activities, including playing time, practice times and team meetings, to allow student-athletes to spend more time on academics and other activities such as internships and working in a job?
A In all sports, NCAA rules require strict enforcement of current rules limiting participation and competition time to 20 hours per week in season. Baylor has implemented a computerized system which tracks, among other things, Countable Athletic Related Activity (CARA) as defined by the NCAA rules. In addition, student-athletes and coaches regularly receive training on CARA-related NCAA rules. Coaches are required to input CARA data on at least a weekly basis; so too, Baylor Athletics Compliance staff members review the data on a weekly basis including anonymous reviews by student-athletes. This provides student-athletes with an opportunity to correct, on a confidential basis apart from coaching staff, any incorrect entries. It’s important to note that, while the NCAA places time limits on organized team activities and competition, Division I student-athletes invest significant time and effort into their respective sports outside of allowable practice and competition time. These are self-directed activities which the university and coaching staff do not direct nor can they reasonably control. Each of these student-athletes performs at an elite level. They have devoted much of their young lives to honing their skills for the opportunity to compete at this very high level. These student-athletes have, accordingly, balanced academics and athletics for a substantial part of their young lives. Much of what they do to improve and maximize performance levels at their sport is on their own initiative, informed and guided by an individualized determination to be the very best they can be.
Q Does Baylor University monitor or have plans to monitor academic progress of student-athletes to maximize their chances at academic achievement?
A Pursuant to NCAA rules, each student-athlete, regardless of scholarship support, must maintain adequate progress toward a degree, as defined in NCAA by-laws, in order to remain eligible for competition. Baylor employs 12 full-time staff and three graduate students in the office of Student-Athlete Services (SAS), along with approximately 100 tutors. The SAS support staff provides a variety of services to enhance the academic and student life dimensions of the college experience. Each summer, incoming student-athletes are initially evaluated for academic deficiencies and the need for any learning accommodations. Based upon that early assessment, student-athletes are assigned tutors and advisors who then assist each student-athlete to meet his/her individual needs. If indicated by initial screening results, some student-athletes may be referred for further testing. Student-athletes are not required to attend study hall for any length of time, but they are required to meet regularly with SAS staff to ensure they remain academically eligible to compete and are making adequate progress toward a degree. Student-athletes are also provided with registration assistance, advising and degree planning and, if desired, aptitude tests and career counseling. Each student-athlete is likewise provided with the opportunity to meet, as needed, with tutors, counselors, advisors and learning specialists. Consistent with Baylor’s mission, the university provides full-time pastoral staff both to furnish chaplain services and to counsel students with spiritual and non-academic aspects of their student experience.
Q Does your university currently provide or plan to provide financial-aid packages (including scholarships) to student-athletes that cover the full cost of attendance?
A As defined by NCAA legislation, a full grant-in-aid does not permit the award of the full cost of attendance as that term is defined in the Higher Education Opportunity Act Amendments of 2009. The NCAA full grant-in-aid currently includes only books, tuition, required fees and room and board. However, many of Baylor’s current student-athletes receive an amount of financial aid equal to or exceeding the full cost of attendance due to the awarding of Pell grants and other funds outside NCAA limits. The increase of grant-in-aid benefits to full cost of attendance represents a top priority for the five high-visibility conferences under the recent grant of autonomy. Legislation to permit such an award is currently pending before the NCAA. Full cost of attendance is calculated by the Baylor Office of Student Financial Aid, based on the reportable full cost of attendance amount. Baylor also provides financial assistance through two NCAA-sponsored funds, the Special Assistance Fund and the Student Athlete Opportunity Fund. Use of these funds provides additional financial assistance to student-athletes to enable them to purchase essential clothing, personal necessities, dress clothes for award ceremonies, preparatory courses and exam costs for post-graduate work, losses due to theft or natural disasters, transportation home in times of need (illness or death in the family), transportation for family to be with the student-athlete in extreme circumstances (injury, surgery, etc.) and various other contexts in which student-athlete well-being is involved. Many such items would not be covered by a grant-in-aid or even in a full cost of attendance calculation, yet represent real, necessary expenses incurred by a student-athlete. Happily, recent NCAA legislation allows greater flexibility to institutions in providing meals and enhanced snacks to better address the student-athletes’ nutritional needs.
Q What is your university’s position on allowing college athletes to seek some amount of financial compensation stemming from their athletic services such as for merchandise that use athletes’ names or likenesses, autographs or other types of revenue-generating activities, similar to how Olympic athletes are compensated?
A Baylor will abide by the permanent injunction in place in the O’Bannon lawsuit to the extent that it remains in force and effect. [The controversial O’Bannon injunction involves a U.S. district court decision this year that, among other things, rules the NCAA violates anti-trust law by preventing football and men’s basketball players from being paid for use of their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA filed an appeal this weekend with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.]
Q Do you intend to seek to reform NCAA policies to allow college athletes to seek similar financial compensation?
A Provisions of the O’Bannon injunction limit the NCAA’s ability to legislate effectively in this area. Moreover, Baylor is concerned about the inability of universities to control the influence and actions of third parties who seek to insert themselves into student-athletes’ affairs in order to commercialize or professionalize the student-athlete and his/her name, image and likeness. Such third parties potentially interfere with both recruiting and retention in violation of NCAA rules. These influences could create myriad problems for the student-athlete in terms of eligibility issues and potentially spawn other negative influences on collegiate competition.
Q Does your university provide student-athletes adequate information and resources, including but not limited to legal representation, to help student-athletes accused of violating NCAA rules navigate the complexities of NCAA procedure?
A Upon either self-discovery of a violation or receipt of notice of a violation from the NCAA, a Baylor Athletics Compliance department staff member will meet with each accused student-athlete and discuss the charge and the process to be followed. By NCAA rule, each student-athlete is required to sign a statement (known as a 10.1 statement) that he/she understands the charges and process and that he/she may consult with counsel. For Level III and IV violations (also known as “secondary violations”), no counsel is provided by virtue of the minor nature of potential penalties and the typically speedy resolution of such matters. For a major infractions case, in contrast, Baylor may provide (on a case-by-case basis) counsel or the student-athlete may choose his/her own counsel. Because the NCAA is a non-governmental entity, the process afforded to each participant is a matter of contract, not of constitutional requirements. However, the quintessential elements of notice and a hearing are integral to the NCAA enforcement process.
Q Does Baylor have a uniform campus-wide policy applicable to all students for investigating and adjudicating allegations of interpersonal violence?
A Yes. Baylor has a uniform policy and adjudication process for interpersonal violence — including dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and discrimination — which apply to all students. These cases are handled collaboratively between the office of Student Conduct Administration and the Title IX Coordinator. These steps are necessary not only to remain compliant with federal legislation but to maintain a safe and secure campus environment for all of our students.
Transcript condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker.