College athletes devote a lot of time and energy to athletic competition—so much so, in fact, that they are routinely considered athletes first and students second (especially since for parts of the year their role in sports actually obliges them to miss classes). And because college sports is a huge industry today, college athletes provide an extraordinary source of revenue for these universities. Yet for all the work and time and energy that student athletes put into their game, whether it is basketball or football, these athletes do not receive any pay for the services and entertainment they provide to millions of adoring fans around the nation. In a land where equitability and fairness are highly valued, one must wonder why it appears that college athletes seem to be getting the short end of the stick. This essay will examine the reasons for which college athletes should be paid and the reasons that are given for why they are not paid. It will also examine some of problems with the current arrangement and why it leads to corruption of athletes and administrators. Finally, it will offer a solution that should be satisfactory to all stakeholders by allowing players to benefit while also ensuring the purity and integrity of the game.
As Hartnett (2014) notes, being a college athlete is more than a full-time job. When most athletes are also full-time students, either sports or education will take a hit—and the reality is that in the college sports industry, student athletes are expected to give 100% to athletics, even if it means missing classes to do so. That’s why the average Division I college football athlete will give more than 43 hours a week to practicing and training for games. That’s three hours more than the average full-time worker puts in at the office—the only difference is that the worker is paid for helping the business that employs him to make money. The athlete, though he will help to bring in millions of dollars for his company, doesn’t make a dime (Edelman, 2014).
What does the NCAA have to say about this arrangement? The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which states that it “is a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes” (NCAA, 2018), simply argues that student athletes are students—not employees, and that events like the big-money-making bonanza that is the NCAA tournament do not oblige these same “students” to miss classes for nationally televised games that bring in huge ad revenue for the colleges. Truthfully, they do, however: if students want to be part of the teams, they have to put the games before classes—especially if the athletes are there on an athletic scholarship.
How much ad revenue is generated from these tournaments and games annually for colleges across the country? The total figure indicates that college athletics is approximately an $11 billion a year industry—a figure that puts college sports on part (if not in excess of) professional sports in terms revenue generated (Edelman, 2014). In order to guarantee this revenue year in and year out, college athletes are expected to perform at a very high level—which is why colleges coaches (who used to not be paid) make huge salaries, especially if their teams are title contenders (Edelman, 2014). Meanwhile, student athletes get zero compensation—and if they dare take a dime of compensation for their hard work, they can be kicked out of school, investigated by the FBI, and have their lives and careers ruined.
Wilson (2016) provides a number of reasons why college athletes should not be paid. First, he argues that many college athletes are being compensated for their work on the field: it comes in the form of an athletic scholarship that allows them to attend the university for free. That can often mean upwards of a $100,000 total compensation package value. This gift of free education is given to the student athlete awarded a scholarship in exchange for the student’s athletic commitment to competing athletically throughout the course of the year. In this sense, there is a quid pro quo exchange that takes place. Student athletes, Wilson (2016) asserts should stop acting as though they are not being compensated when the value of the education they are receiving is alone worth more than most students will earn working part-time jobs during their four years in college.
Second, he points out that if athletes were to be paid with an actual paycheck, there would be far too much focus on negotiations, contracts, bonuses, etc., all of which would take away from the fact that these students are attending universities, not playing for pro sports clubs. In other words, the worry is that it would diminish the integrity of the institutions. These institutions cater to sports because they realize the positive effect that athletics can have on a student body, on the development of students’ character, and on the overall country in general which loves to rally behind sports. The emphasis of college athletics should not be on money but rather on the fact that these players should think of themselves as students who are working towards obtaining a degree while also playing the games they love in order to build their character and sense of good sportsmanship.
Third, Wilson (2016) suggests that if colleges were to pay players, the universities simply would not have enough money to pay them all—especially if the colleges are not big Division I schools routinely competing for titles every year. If one college starts paying players, ever college will be expected to pay players in order to attract talent and give their schools a tool for increasing enrollment—and that is something that they all simply cannot afford to do (Wilson, 2016).
College athletes should be paid for the work they put into the games played on the field—after all, these games generate huge revenues for the schools, and college athletes put in full-time hours in order to make the games exciting for fans. That means they have no hours left in the day to spend at a part-time job; and it means the temptation to seek illicit compensation or to leave school after a year to pursue a pro career is strong. The college athlete trust fund would be the right solution.
Edelman, M. (2014). 21 reasons why student-athletes are employees and should be allowed to unionize. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/marcedelman/2014/01/30/21-reasons-why-student-athletes-are-employees-and-should-be-allowed-to-unionize/#27cc615d8d05
Hartnett, T. (2014). “Why college athletes should be paid. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tyson-hartnett/college-athletes-should-be-paid_b_4133847.html
Mathis-Lilley, B. (2018). The real lessons of the weekend’s NCAA scandal. Retrieved from https://slate.com/culture/2018/02/college-basketball-exposes-undermine-coaches-claims-about-paying-players.html
Moroses, R. (2017). Understanding the trust fund proposal. Retrieved from http://collegead.com/understanding-the-trust-fund-proposal-for-compensating-student-athletes/
NCAA. (2018). What is the NCAA? Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/ncaa-101/what-ncaa
Swanson, R. (2017). Want to clean up college athletics? Pay the players. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/10/02/want-to-clean-up-college-athletics-pay-the-players/?utm_term=.4c2dd10e20f6
Wilson, B. (2016). 5 reasons college athletes should not be paid. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@brandonlwilson/5-reasons-college-athletes-should-not-be-paid-46c6d1399892