Wednesday, January 15, 1997
NCAA lets athletes keep the change

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sally Schulte is looking at a $500 bill. Not the one with William McKinley's mug on it, the one Xavier University expects her to pay.

She is a volleyball player on full scholarship - ''one of the lucky ones,'' she says - but that doesn't cover her parking fees or her graduation fees. It doesn't cover the costs she incurs from the common cold.

''If I'm not in season, they don't cover my medical (expenses),'' Schulte said Tuesday. ''Since I'm not in season right now and I have a cold, if I went to the health center I'd have to pay for it myself. Those things add up.''

College expenses do not end at tuition, room, board and books. Never have. The news out of Nashville Monday was that after nearly a century with its eggheads in the sand, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has finally reached this rather obvious conclusion.

Legislation approved at the NCAA convention will allow scholarship athletes to start earning spending money during the school year. Beginning Aug. 1, the nation's semi-amateur athletes will be permitted gainful employment, provided it does not gain them too much.

The NCAA is not ready to pay the people primarily responsible for its prosperity, but at least it no longer stands in the way of an athlete making ends meet on campus. Relatively speaking, this is progress.

Free market ideals ignored

America's college administrators have thrown athletes a bone that should never have been school property to begin with. In a free market society, college athletes should have no more restrictions imposed on their income potential than college basketball coaches or chemistry professors.

That athletes have previously been prevented from taking jobs during the school year was not a matter of principle, but a matter of price. Much as they might bemoan the influence of professionalism on their pristine ideals, administrators are more concerned with the costs associated with employing a team of overt mercenaries.

The NCAA has passed pages and pages of legislation to prevent schools from offering improper ''inducements'' to attract athletes instead of seeking an equitable way to share the wealth. Its fear of abuse in this area has overwhelmed its interest in fairness. To prevent free enterprise, the NCAA has promoted indentured servitude.

''It's obvious athletes need more money than we're getting,'' said Jolinda Lewis, the point guard on the University of Cincinnati's women's basketball team. ''We're hanging in there by the skin of our teeth. We're living paycheck to paycheck.Ç.Ç. Athletic departments and the schools are getting all that money and the kids aren't getting anything.''

Allowing athletes the right to work is more a symbolic gesture than a solution. Most of them are fortunate if they can find time to study, much less moonlight.

''I can't imagine holding a job and swimming and keeping my grades up - no possible way,'' said UC swimmer Michelle Murphy. ''We're not supposed to practice more than 20 hours a week .Ç.Ç. that's what the NCAA says. But we get to 20 hours, and it's optional. And no one gets out of the pool.''

A lot for athletes to handle

Practice and travel commitments required of Division I athletes inherently compromise their performance in the classroom. Part-time jobs, presumably, would push some student-athletes past their capacity to cope.

''On our team, I know nobody has time,'' Lewis said. ''I wish they'd just go a little further and pay athletes, even if it's $50 a month. There's stuff that the university doesn't provide you with that you still need.''

Sally Schulte thinks she could cover her miscellaneous expenses by working three to six hours a week. She is not looking for luxuries, but necessities: laundry detergent, shampoo, the occasional parking ticket.

''Anyone who looks back at college knows it (income) could make a big difference,'' said UC basketball player Jackson Julson. ''It's the difference between being able to eat out at a nice place once a week and going to McDonald's.''