Kurtz: NCAA’s no-pay policy unfair to student athletes

Michael Kurtz

As a moderately successful high school soccer player and wrestler, I have an unsolicited, contradictory confession to make: I envy NU’s student-athletes but think they’re very mistreated.

On the one hand, I wish that I had been talented enough to continue playing sports in college. I miss shouting salty exhortations towards my teammates and yelling unrepeatable pejoratives about the opposition in the soccer team’s pre-match huddle. I long for the butterflies that fluttered when I revved up my iPod’s wrestling playlist and began to pace the dimly lit gyms where I strained sinews, hoping to get my hand raised by a pudgy ref with a thick gray mustache. Even looking at calendars feels funny; the only dates that I mentally circle and obsess over are academic ones.

I realize that I’m waxing a little nostalgic here. I hated waking up early, coming home late and feeling totally exhausted. I also know that we have a full spectrum of IM sports – although I’d say that they simply don’t feel the same. Teammates can only skip optional practices for next week’s econ quiz so many times before one’s enthusiasm wanes. I also don’t want to romanticize D-1 varsity sports; their practices probably make my competitive matches look like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Still, what they do thrills me. I can only imagine how it would feel to score a big goal at Lakeside Field or a pin a guy at Welsh-Ryan arena.

But, for the same reasons I envy them, I think they deserve better. Just as the Olympics once did, to the detriment of absolutely no one, the NCAA should eliminate amateurism, the antiquated concept that prohibits college athletes from receiving compensation for their skills. This would put an end to a thriving black market economy and a slew of silly sanctions that defy common sense.

Current bylaws prohibit athletes from using “athletics skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport.” They cannot profit from the use of their likenesses or names in video games, DVDs and apparel, even though their universities do.

As if that didn’t sound crazy enough, consider that in 2009, the NCAA hit the University of South Carolina’s athletic department with sanctions for giving basketball players “impermissible snacks” – fruit and bagels – outside of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Earlier this year, a scandal erupted at Ohio State because football players – gasp!! – traded jerseys and other memorabilia for cash. A rhetorical question clarifies things even further: would anyone object if a math major were to fund his trips to Chipotle with a tutoring business?

One could object to what I’ve said on the grounds that athletes are compensated with both tuition and room and board. However, these benefits often fall short. A recent Ithaca College study found that the average Division I scholarship athlete faces a $3,000 annual shortfall between covered costs such as tuition and other school-related expenses including books, calculators and parking

Even coaches find this arrangement fishy. Steve Spurrier, who coaches the University of South Carolina’s football team has said that “50 years ago, athletes got full scholarships. Television income was…maybe $50,000?…Now everybody’s getting $14, $15 million bucks and they’re still getting a scholarship.”

As things stand, according to Richard Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of North Carolina “College sport is a business and a free market system for everyone except the athletes.”

In the spirit of the free market and what’s left of American capitalism, the NCAA should, like the Olympics, let its athletes – without which it would be nothing – make money because of who they are and what they’re capable of doing. It’s only fair; the rest of us already do.

Michael Kurtz is a Weinberg junior.

He can be reached at [email protected].

(Editor’s note: At the request of the columnist, this column has been edited from its original version that ran in print.)