“The Inside Edge” is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.
When I tell people I compete for USC’s figure skating team, they usually hit me with a similar set of questions: “Can you do a flip?” “How do you get up before 4 a.m. every week?” “Where the heck do you practice?’
Though I receive these questions with mind-boggling frequency, there is one that prevails above all, concentrating the concerns of my family members, college-age friends and parents of young skaters alike:
“Do you get a scholarship for that?”
There’s been a lot of talk lately surrounding SB-206, the bill Gov. Newsom signed this week allowing NCAA athletes to receive compensation for endorsements and the use of their likeness. Upon hearing about the bill, I thought about how much collegiate figure skaters pay out of pocket in order to just practice and compete.
Between ice time (~$13-20 per hour), gear (my skates cost $1200), competition entry fees (~$65 per event) and out-of-state travel to competitions, skating runs up a hefty bill. As college students who are constantly strapped for cash, many of us have to dip deep into our savings to continue practicing our passion.
According to U.S Figure Skating’s 2019-2020 collegiate team directory, there are 110 campuses with skating programs, and 23 of these include synchronized skating teams. Of all participating students, very few receive funding from U.S. Figure Skating. These are the senior men’s and ladies’ collegiate national champions ($5000 each), silver medalists ($2500 each) and the ladies’ bronze medalist ($1000).
That’s a total of five individuals. So what does everyone else get in order to support participation in such an expensive sport?
Well, not much. Based on U.S. Figure Skating’s running tally of university funding dedicated to skating programs, 70% of teams receive less than $1000 per year. As teams typically travel with six to 12 skaters to at least three competitions per year, that money hardly covers Uber rides to the airport.
The huge out-of-pocket expense is a deterrent for otherwise talented, passionate and dedicated athletes from participating in the collegiate skating structure. Especially for those skaters who are financially independent from their parents—who used to pay all their skating expenses—the lack of funding presents an insurmountable obstacle.
This problem does not stem from the national governing body, but from universities’ lack of awareness and attention. The intrigue about my unique talent, along with the discipline and perseverance skating taught me, are possibly some of the reasons why I was admitted into USC. In fact, many skaters I know wrote college essays about the role of skating in our lives.
USC and many other universities accept students based upon their varying interests, claiming they’ll create an environment that will support those interests. When it comes down to financial support, though, the truth is simple: universities won’t put money behind what isn’t immediately lucrative and profitable.
Because of this, figure skaters and participants in several other nontraditional sports suffer. We’re forced to rely upon generous family members, personal savings and/or additional student loans so we can continue exercising this special component of our identities.
If universities truly want to invest in the diversity of their campuses as much as they say they do, they’ll need to financially back the diverse interests of their students. That includes facilitating practice space, transportation and competition enrollment fees so skaters are able to represent their schools.
This kind of investment, in turn, attracts the talent that brings championships back to the university. The skating world is relatively small, and if words gets around that certain universities provide great subsidies for skaters competing at a high level, top competitors will flock to the university.
Unfortunately, most schools sit significantly behind that curve. Until USC decides to get behind the diverse student population that makes the university great, I’ll keep answering the same old question with a sigh.
“The Inside Edge” runs every Wednesday.