Athletes enrolled in California's four‑year institutions of higher education, public or private, will be protected by a first-in-the-nation law signed by Governor Jerry Brown last week. The Student‑Athlete Bill of Rights, effective January 1, 2013, applies to California universities that generate more than $10 million annually in athletics-related media revenue. It will be codified as Section 67450 et seq. of the Education Code. (The full text is here.)

The law was sponsored by California Senator Alex Padilla and drafted by the National College Players Association. Schools directly affected based on current revenue are Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and USC. Senator Padilla's office said that SDSU may soon fall under the law because of conference realignment.  NCPA President Ramogi Huma - who recently spoke at the Manatt-sponsored Sports Law Symposium at Santa Clara Law School - explained: "This is a great day for college athletes. California has acted to ensure that the players generating billions of dollars for its colleges are guaranteed basic physical, academic, and financial protections. No other state in the nation guarantees its college athletes these protections, and the NCPA will work to change that." (See NCPA press release here.)

Under the new law, if a student suffers a season-ending injury while participating in his or her scholarship program or exhausts his or her eligibility (at a school with a graduation rate of 60% or less for athletes), the school must continue to provide benefits equivalent to that student's scholarship. Schools must pay the medical premiums for program-related medical claims for lower-income students and must pay the deductible amount for program-related injuries for any athlete. If an athlete requires ongoing treatment for a sports-related injury, the school must provide at least two years of that treatment or treatment‑covering insurance (and the resulting deductible).

The law also requires universities to provide specified financial and life skills workshops, including budget recommendations and time management skills. It directs universities to use their athletic media revenues to pay for complying with the law.

The affected universities opposed initial versions of the bill. Provisions such as prohibiting universities from objecting to an athlete's transfer and requiring athletic scholarships (and not just their "equivalents") to continue, appear to have been dropped or modified, and only Stanford objected to the final bill. One of its objections was that the law should affect all California universities. While the affected universities argued that it would make them less competitive, some analysts suggested the law might make them more attractive to recruits.