Power 5 conferences vote to provide mental health services

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Power 5 conferences unanimously passed legislation Thursday at the NCAA convention requiring their schools to make mental health services and resources available for student-athletes.

The legislation is meant to further strengthen mental health services already provided on campus. As part of it, schools will distribute mental health education information and resources to student-athletes, coaches, administrators and other athletics personnel.

Washington State athletic director Pat Chun spoke during the open comments portion during the Division I Autonomy Forum and Business Session, pointing out the legislation's importance for the health and well-being of student-athletes. Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski died by suicide in 2018, and the school has added to the services it already provided student-athletes.

Chun pointed out that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those in the college age group. When the time to vote came from each school in the ACC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC plus 15 student-athlete representatives, the legislation passed 80-0.

"It's powerful it was passed in unanimous fashion," Chun said. "Stuff like this is a no-brainer for college athletics. We do a lot for our student-athletes, so I think it's time we do something in terms of the mental health. Most, if not all, schools in the Power 5 are doing something, but the worst-case scenario is dealing with a tragedy that no school or family wants."

Cincinnati swimmer Enna Selmanovic, one of the 15 student-athlete representatives with a vote, has dealt with her own mental health struggles after a back injury forced the premature end to her career. "I want to help student-athletes never feel the way that I felt because when you wake up in the morning and you wish you didn't, I don't think you can ever get to a lower point than that," said Selmanovic, who did not vote Thursday, but did have input with the Division I Council in their discussions on mental health support for student-athletes.

Her goal is to get this legislation beyond the Power 5 conferences and into a policy that encompasses every NCAA division.

"Two days ago, we sadly had the passing of Andrew Harris of the University of Montana, and it's just another reminder that it's not something that can be swept under the rug or it's a reminder we have not yet done enough," she said. "We can keep telling ourselves that we have everything fixed. We're going down the right path, but we are still not there yet, so this is really important to remind people it's an ongoing process. It's not going to end right here today."

Last January, the Pac-12 created a mental health task force, a group of doctors and mental health experts from league schools to share resources and best practices. For Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, it made complete sense to sponsor the legislation.

"One of the greatest changes I've seen in my time as commissioner is concern over mental health," Scott said. "As I travel around our conference and meet with our student-athletes, this is among the top issues they want to talk to me about, and many of our schools have been real thought leaders in this area. It's been an emerging priority, so the fact this passed unanimously signals the fact that nationally this has risen to the top among the areas that universities want to address."

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the increasing awareness surrounding mental health needs for student-athletes spurred the conference to hold its first mental health summit this spring. Each member school will gather in Durham, North Carolina, to hear best practices from experts, as well as hearing from current and former student-athletes who have had their own mental health struggles.

"Going back decades, we started with academic counseling, then addressed the physical part of it, then the nutrition part of it. We probably should have started with the mental health," Swofford said.

Although schools already offer mental health services, the hope is that the legislation will serve to further destigmatize mental health concerns and asking for help.

"This is meant to be a minimum, not a maximum," Scott said. "We want to elevate this issue on a bunch of different levels."

In addition, the five conferences passed legislation that allows student-athletes to receive room and board expenses to participate in summer athletic activities while not enrolled in summer school.