Nothing is Truly Free: Why College Athletes Should be Paid

January 22, 2015

College athletes should be compensated for the use of their images, the fact that colleges make millions on their sports, and the sacrifice of their time. Currently, they have no legal way of making money. They have no time to get a regular part-time job like other students, and they aren't permitted to take advantage of their athletic status, like professional athletes do, usually by signing with a brand and making advertisements. The NCAA rules state that a player is not allowed to play a sport if he or she has ever "taken pay, or the promise of pay, for competing in that sport", or if he/she has "used your athletic skills for pay in any sport" (fs.ncaa.org).

In August 2014, a judge ruled in favor of Ed O'Bannon, a former college basketball player who was suing the NCAA. His image was being used in a video game and in TV broadcasts and he was receiving no compensation. The judge ruled that the NCAA's rules were unfair and that players deserve some kind of compensation for the use of their likeness. Paying players is not mandatory under her new rules, but most top colleges and universities will feel pressure when others start to offer future players money. Football and basketball players will probably receive an athlete trust fund and regular salary payments "reflecting the true cost of attending school"; this will go into effect in 2016. (Ben Strauss and Mark Tracy, "NCAA Must Allow Colleges to Pay Athletes, Judge Rules").

The NCAA and individual institutions make millions of dollars each year, making products such as sweatshirts, posters, and video games, and selling TV rights and tickets. “The college sports industry generates $11 billion in annual revenues. Fifty colleges report annual revenues that exceed $50 million. Meanwhile, five colleges report annual revenues that exceed $100 million” (Mark Edelman, “The Case for Paying College Athletes”). Coaches and other athletic personnel are paid high salaries, with some head coaches making more than two million dollars a year. 

Yet, in his article “Pay College Athletes? They’re Already Paid Up To $125,000 Per Year”, Jeffrey Dorfman explained that most colleges don’t have enough money to pay their student athletes. But maybe only the athletes in sports that make money for the college should be paid, or the athletic staff’s salaries should be lowered, or the NCAA itself (which, according to ncaa.org, makes almost $800 million a year) could provide some compensation, either for the college, or directly for the student. There are several options available when crafting the new rules.

Meanwhile, athletes with full scholarships usually get free housing and some food, but their scholarships only apply while they’re enrolled in classes. This can be hard. For example, during the summer, when football players have practice all day, they have to pay for their own apartments and food. Other expenses, such as clothing, extra food for the apartment, gas, and car payments aren’t covered by the scholarship, and since players don’t have enough time to get a job, and aren’t allowed any other type of income, finding money to pay for these things can be difficult. (Dana O’Neill, “A View from the Inside: An Inside Look at a Full-Scholarship Athlete Versus a Typical Student”). The addition of a salary will help to cover the cost of living.

Opponents of paying student athletes argue that the practice will create bidding wars among colleges recruiting high school students. However, the NCAA can impose a salary cap to prevent this. Student salaries probably shouldn’t be too high, because their main purpose should only be to compensate athletes for the use of their images and provide them with money to pay for the cost of living. Paying athletes would give them an incentive to work harder, both in high school and college, so they can get a bigger contract and more attention from professional teams.

Another argument is that paying student athletes will ruin the principle of amateurism that the NCAA wants to protect. However, in the two most popular college sports, basketball and football, college play is essentially the minor leagues, since the top players get drafted to a professional team after college. In other sports, such as baseball, the minor leagues are a separate system, in which all players are paid. Additionally, students who do not participate in sports often get paid internships or other lucrative opportunities to further their careers while still in college. Why shouldn’t college athletes also receive some compensation for the work they do to develop their future careers?

The biggest argument against paying student athletes is that most are receiving a free college education and athletic training in exchange for their participation in the athletic program. Horace Mitchell, president of California State University, Bakersfield, argued in his article, “Students Are Not Professional Athletes”: “A fundamental NCAA commitment under the collegiate model is to student-athlete well-being, where institutions have the responsibility to establish and maintain an environment in which student-athletes’ activities are conducted to encourage academic success and individual development as an integral part of the educational experience…student-athletes should be an integral part of the student body.” But most players aren’t receiving a conventional college education—meetings, practices, and traveling for games get in the way of the students’ normal schedule, causing them to miss lectures, take more online classes, and have to make up work on the road or turn it in late. As for being an “integral part of the student body”, most athletes barely have time to come to class, let alone be involved in student organizations, interact with other students, or participate in school events. Though it’s free, there are some major downsides to athletes’ college education.

The court decision in August of this year will probably prove to be very important to this debate. The momentum seems to be shifting to the side of the athletes, still have to make sacrifices, not only financially, but often educationally, in order to walk away with a college degree.


Works Cited:

"The Case for Paying College Athletes", Marc Edelman, usnews.com, 1/6/14
              
"Students Are Not Professional Athletes", Horace Mitchell, usnews.com, 1/6/14
               
Summary of NCAA Rules and Regulations for Student Athletes, fs.ncaa.org
               
"NCAA Must Allow Colleges to Pay Athletes, Judge Rules", Ben Strauss and Mark Tracy, nytimes.org, 8/8/14

“A View from the Inside: An Inside Look at a Full-Scholarship Athlete Versus a Typical Student”, Dana O’Neill, espn.go.com, 7/13/11

“Pay College Athletes? They’re Already Paid Up To $125,000 Per Year”, Jeffrey Dorfman, forbes.com, 8/29/13






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