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Should College Athletes Be Paid?
It’s March Madness baby! This is the time of year hundreds of college basketball players take to the floor in hopes of winning a national championship. Millions of fans invest time, money and energy cheering for their favorite teams. Billions of dollars are made by the television and advertising industries, the food and beverage industries and the College and University “industry”. We watch these young men and women play their hearts out never once considering they have classes to study for or calculating the amount of money they make generate.
Today’s college athletes or “student-athletes”, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association calls them, are a part of a long time controversy. While they receive scholarships and are allowed to go to college for free, they also have to “work” in practice and games. They are no different than other college students in that they also have to pay for other necessities. Even if a fan wants to help them out in any way like buy them a meal they can’t because it’s a NCAA violation. This is a hot topic especially during the NCAA tournament. Even the popular IPhone application, Instagram has recently put this hot topic on display. This past week, University of Louisville women’s basketball player, Bria Smith posted a picture of an article about this debate. Her teammate, Monique Reid commented on the photo saying, “Pay us!!” Ohio State University women’s basketball player Raven Ferguson also commented saying the same thing.
College athletes should be paid because they are not compensated for their work in sports and the money that’s generated for their university and for the NCAA is astounding. They should also be able to receive a guaranteed diploma because they aren’t necessarily guaranteed a diploma even if they stay all four years. “The NCAA earns more money during its post season than the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.” (Watkins, "Paying College Athletes: Dr. Boyce Watkins Explains Why College Athletes Should Get Paid"). In the 1990s, the question about the payment of student-athletes has shifted from “are college athletics being paid?” to “how much should college athletes be paid?” I believe that this shift is reasonable because we are in a day and age and economy where money is everything. Many college athletes are leaving college early to help their families in this financial crisis.
Some people believe that getting a free education is enough compensation because most colleges cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for all four years. “The average NCAA athlete in revenue-generating sports operates at a deficit, paying $2,951 per year in school-related costs.” (Watkins, "Paying College Athletes: Dr. Boyce Watkins Explains Why College Athletes Should Get Paid"). That’s money that isn’t provided with their scholarship. How do the student-athletes pay that amount if they aren’t allowed to get jobs?
Michael Altschuler points out several flaws in the NCAA’s player compensation logic. He states, “Although a scholarship gives an athlete free room and board, free books, and a free education, they are still left with things they have to pay for. Secondly, there are many athletes who don’t have scholarships that still put in the work. Thirdly, as an athlete, you practice for hours, taking away time that you could be studying. Lastly, many college athletes pursue majors that allow them to take easier classes so that they will be able to spend more time practicing their sport.” (Altschuler, "College Athletes- Should they Receive Compensation?")
I completely agree with Altschuler’s points because they are common aspects of college sports that aren’t on the mind of a common spectator. Kyle Kuric is a University of Louisville men’s basketball player who is majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Entrepreneurship. That’s impressive for a basketball player, but it shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t be surprised if a student-athlete has an “impressive” major like business or engineering. More difficult majors should be more common than they are. What if the reason why student-athletes aren’t majoring in more difficult subjects is because they have to practice all the time and can’t fully apply themselves to school? The NCAA claims that student-athletes graduate at a higher rate than the general student body but does that count all the athletes who leave to play professionally? “Approximately 1 percent of NCAA men’s basketball players and 2 percent of NCAA football players are drafted by NBA or NFL teams.” (Branch, “The Shame of College Sports”). What about the other student-athletes who don’t get drafted by the NBA or NFL or any other professional team? Not only have they not earned money, they do not usually earn a degree.
Another major problem is that to get a Bachelor’s degree at most universities take five years now instead of four. Forty-five percent of students who aren’t student-athletes and go to school full time need an extra year or more to finish. (Scott-Clayton, "The Rise of the Five-Year Four-Year Degree"). If a student is full time, that means they enroll for 12 or more credits a semester. A Bachelor’s degree typically requires at least 120 credits to complete meaning they would need five years to complete the degree. The University of Louisville’s four year graduation rate is only 21%, but their six year graduation rate is 49% (“University of Louisville – ACT Scores, Costs and Admissions Data”). The NCAA recently published an article congratulating themselves on their single-year graduation success rate because it hit an all time high at 82%. ("NCAA Grad Rates Hit All-time High.") But those statistics are based on student-athletes who graduated in six years. Technically, the NCAA just proved that it takes more than four years to graduate.
The payment of coaches also represents how lopsided the money issue is for student-athletes. Coaches are paid depending on how well their team does during and post season and are typically paid more than professional coaches are. Rick Pitino, University of Louisville’s men’s basketball head coach earned 7.5 million dollars after the 2011 season. Pitino was the head coach and president of the Boston Celtics in 2000 and earned 5 million dollars. In 2010, the University of Louisville men’s basketball team graduation rate was 38% (O’Shaughnessy, Lynn. “March Madness 2010 Brackets: Best and Worst Graduation Rates”). This percentage was one of the lowest in the NCAA March Madness tournament. These coaches aren’t rewarded for if their players graduate, but on how well their players play their game. If coaches are rewarded for their team’s winning percentage, shouldn’t they be reprimanded if there isn’t a winning percentage in the classroom, too?
The NCAA claims that student-athletes are students first and athletes second but the NCAA coined the “student-athletes” because it helps the NCAA in its “fight against workmen’s compensation insurance claims for injured football players.” (Branch, “The Shame of College Sports”). This means that if a player gets injured while playing a college sport and dies from it, the player’s family cannot file for workmen’s-compensation death benefits. Put yourself in a player’s shoes that has just been paralyzed or put yourself in a mother or father of a player’s shoes who has just died because of their sport. Wouldn’t you want to get compensation or some help to pay the medical bills or the funeral from the association that your son or daughter has just been injured or died helping generate millions of dollars for? Both cases have happened.
In the 1950s, Ray Dennison died from a head injury he received while playing football for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies in Colorado. His wife filed for “workmen’s-compensation death benefits.” The Colorado Supreme Court stated that she would not get “workmen’s-compensation death benefits” (Branch, “The Shame of College Sports”) because the college was “not in the football business.” (Branch, “The Shame of College Sports”). In 1974, Texas Christian University running back, Kent Waldrep, was tackled during a game against the Alabama Crimsons. The result was paralysis from the neck down. TCU paid for Waldrep’s medical bills for nine months but then TCU refused to pay any more. Fifteen years later, Kent Waldrep has regained feeling in his arms but is still wheelchair bound. In the 1990s, he sued for “workers’-compensation” but never got justice.
In the fall of 2011, Mark Emmett, the current NCAA president, agreed to create a $2000 stipend for Division I schools but the problem with that was some conferences would and some wouldn’t. After about a month of this promise, it was overridden by more than 125 college athletic directors and conference commissioners because their school couldn’t afford it. A handful of high-school athletes signed letters of intent to schools with the $2000 stipend and even though the stipend was overridden, they will still get the $2000. But the other high-school athletes who signed before or after the stipend period don’t receive it. That $2000 could go toward the $2,951 of school related costs. That may leave a bitter taste in some high-school athletes’ mouths. If the NCAA had really thought of a good way to give student-athletes compensation and had consulted with all three divisions, the unfairness wouldn’t have happened.
All in all, you can see how college athletes have been treated unfairly ever since the NCAA was established in 1906. Just because they have a free ride to college doesn’t mean they will graduate and get a diploma. These student-athletes need to be paid because they generate millions of dollars for the NCAA and their university. Millions of dollars of income for unpaid labor sound familiar, doesn’t it? It happened for about 400 years to millions of Africans. Yes I’m talking about slavery. These players are 21st century slaves and we all play a role in their fate as fans, coaches, shoe companies, video gamers, etc. They’re slaves to their own sports and our fanaticism. The next time you see a jersey or play a sports-related video game, think of the millions of dollars that company is getting and think of the thousands of student-athletes who don’t get one penny from it.