Price to play

Tania Ganguli and Tania Ganguli

California-Berkeley defensive tackle Josh Beckam said he gets a scholarship check of about $770 a month to pay for the living expenses of rent and groceries.

Last year Beckam’s rent was $710 dollars a month.

“Rent here in the Bay Area is ridiculous,” Beckam said. “And that’s not including bills. If all you’re able to do is live off your check, that can pose some problems.”

Many student-athletes live off their scholarship checks, and because of that politicians and NCAA officials have started to debate scholarship limits. They are trying to decide if current limits are fair and, if not, what can be done to make them fair.

Although the cost of living isn’t as high in Evanston, Northwestern football players understand Beckam’s frustration.

Scholarship checks for living off campus can’t exceed the average cost of room and board on campus. At NU that means $8,967 a year split over 10 months. The athletic department feeds the players one “training table” meal a day and subtracts that cost from off-campus checks. The only time the athletic department is allowed to feed the players for free is during away games and to replace a meal they miss because of a home game.

Wildcats linebacker Pat Durr estimated that rent and utilities add up to at least $600 per month.

“You add gas and food to that, food’s huge, especially with us,” Durr said. “We’ve got 320-pound guys who eat a lot.”

This year Beckam can’t even afford to live in Berkeley. But he doesn’t think the situation will change any time soon.

“Nobody really cares,” he said.

LEGAL AID

State legislators in California and Nebraska want to show athletes that they do care. State Sen. Kevin Murray recently authored a student-athlete’s bill of rights in the California senate.

The bill forbids schools from being part of any organization that limits athletic scholarships and stipends, health insurance, employment outside of sports and agents.

If passed California athletes won’t be eligible under NCAA rules. But that’s not Murray’s goal.

Nebraska state legislator Ernie Chambers authored a bill that called for the University of Nebraska to pay football players a stipend in addition to scholarship money. The bill passed in Nebraska, but four other states with Big 12 schools must pass a similar bill for it to be enforced.

If they do Big 12 athletes in those five states will also be ineligible. But that isn’t Chambers’ goal either.

Chambers and Murray just want to make the NCAA address the problems that college athletes face.

On Tuesday Pac-10 officials held a summit at Stanford inviting California politicians, representatives from the NCAA and Division I California schools, student-athletes, and NCAA president Myles Brand.

“We’re trying to see if we can find a solution that is both fair to the student-athletes and the NCAA,” said Eric Price, a Pac-10 staff member organizing the summit. “The passage of this bill would mean the destruction of college athletics in California.”

Although students like the idea of a stipend, NU Director of Athletics Mark Murphy said paying the athletes extra would make them too much like professionals. He realizes NU students want be independent after their sophomore year, but he asks another question.

“Is it a right they have, to live off campus?” Murphy asked.

In addition to the issue of not limiting grant money, the bill tackles the problem of health insurance.

At the summit on Tuesday, an observer said Brand supported deregulating health insurance and increasing grant money to the full cost of attendance.

Athletes aren’t eligible for health insurance in the summer because there are no mandatory practices then. But Beckam says the word voluntary is used very loosely in college football.

“They’re volu-mandatory practices,” he said.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Jeremy Bloom is an Olympic moguls skier. Olympians are amateurs, but they make money through endorsements.

But Bloom has a problem. He’s also a wide receiver at Colorado and NCAA regulations prohibit him from having endorsements of any kind.

Outraged by the experience, Bloom decided the rules needed to change. In an editorial he wrote for The New York Times on Aug. 1, Bloom explained his solution — a student-athlete’s bill of rights.

“My proposal would allow student-athletes to ‘secure bona fide employment not associated with his/her amateur sport’ and collect money generated by the sale of apparel that bears their names and jersey numbers,” Bloom wrote.

Former NU coach and Bloom’s coach at Colorado, Gary Barnett, doesn’t agree with Bloom.

“There’s just no way to know if you’re being paid because you’re a skier or a football player,” he said.

Murphy said allowing college athletes to have endorsements, even if they are not associated with the athlete’s sport, would create a situation “ripe for abuse.” He said recruits might be lured with the promise of lucrative endorsements.

But the athletes see agents as a much bigger threat to amateurism.

Athletes and administrators say agents would be disastrous for college athletes, making the environment too professional and taking away from team camaraderie.

“That could distract from what the college game’s about,” NU running back Jason Wright said. “You’d lose the pageantry.”

“Coaches and athletic directors would be dealing with agents all the time, instead of the athletes,” Murphy said.

But some students think endorsements would be a fair trade for their contribution to the business of college football.

“This is a big commercial sport and people make money off of commercials all the time in the middle of games,” Wright said. “Why can’t athletes be banking on that as well?”

‘RULES ARE CHANGING’

The NCAA has been hearing these complaints for years. It started back in the 1970s with Kansas cross country coach Bob Timmons, who first proposed a student-athletes’ bill of rights.

The NCAA has taken small steps to respond. It created the 20-hour “work week,” limiting the number of mandatory practice hours to 20. It also now allows student-athletes to have jobs, if they have time for them. Students who qualify for Pell grants can take advantage of the NCAA’s Special Assistance Fund, which gives additional aid for athletes who need it.

“When I first started coaching, you couldn’t give a kid a bus ticket home for a funeral,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “Now the rules are changing.”

Those opposed to the change said the biggest concern isn’t athletes’ standard of living — it’s the quality of their education.

But Stanford linebacker Jon Alston, who spoke at the summit according to an observer, said football and basketball players are not students first. They’re athletes first and they don’t have time to focus on studies, he said.

“The NCAA is ignoring the truth of the situation,” he said.

That attitude is part of what motivated Chambers to call for change, as his bill requests a reduction in the football work week so athletes have time to study.

On one hand there are some athletes who said they are cheap labor for the NCAA business. On the other hand administrators and the NCAA said they are giving athletes something priceless — an education. And many athletes agree that they have football to thank for their education.

“My education’s so valuable to me,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t be going here if it weren’t for football, it costs too much.”