Time to Pay College Athletes? The Pros and Cons

The Pros by Ben Coulthard

9.15 billion dollars. Out of the 231 Division I schools in the NCAA that report data, this is the amount of money college athletes bring to their respective colleges and universities just based off of their athletic abilities. These athletes see their jerseys and merchandise in shops around campus being sold, however, they also see zero of the money that is made off their likenesses back in their own pockets. Due to NCAA regulations, athletes are prohibited from earning money off of their performance in their respective sports or off of their likenesses if they are good enough athletes to be promoted by the university. These athletes are exploited by the NCAA for every dollar in a multi-billion dollar industry and receive nothing in return. If these young men and women provide additional funding to their respective schools, they deserve a cut of the profits.

“Student-athletes”, as they are most aptly named and frequently called by universities and the NCAA, are expected to perform the same duties as a normal student, such as going to all classes and maintaining grades to remain eligible in the classroom. However, they also are devoting anywhere from forty to sixty hours per week to their sport for a majority of the year in addition to the time they spend focused on classes. They don’t have the luxury for any mistakes, be it in the classroom or on the field, many a time being sleep deprived and hungry. The athletes work long hours, sometimes from as early as 4:30 AM to as late as 10 PM for lifts and mandatory study halls, then have to fit in time to eat, study, watch film, and have any kind of a social life on campus. With all the time the athletes put in by working for school and athletics, they have no wages. They are not working at minimum wage, they are working quite simply for no wage. These long work weeks aren’t even rewarded with extra money to pay for amenities like going out to dinner once a week or having some spending money to see the latest movie in theaters.

Yet, there are still strong opponents to paying student-athletes. Some claim that an athletic scholarship and having the opportunity to represent the college as an athlete ought to be enough compensation. However, the average full athletic scholarship at the Division I level is around $25,000. Schools at the Ivy League and Division III levels, where numerous MBA athletes continue their athletic careers, don’t even offer athletic scholarships. Money at those levels comes as merit-based only, meaning academic honors is where scholarship money is rewarded. With the money that is earned through a scholarship, it will only cover the most basic needs of a college student, such as tuition, housing, and meals. When total costs are higher than the money given in a scholarship, the athlete and their family pays out of pocket, meaning the scholarship wasn’t enough to pay for the full costs of college. If the athletes were given some form of a stipend, many would use the extra cash to offset the cost of college they still have to pay for.

The biggest opponent to paying athletes of all is the NCAA, the governing body of intercollegiate athletics. The NCAA is notorious for penny-pinching, stretching out every dollar they earn, and the student-athletes that generate revenue receive slim to none of the earnings that they are producing. This might be understandable if the NCAA wasn’t making nearly 1 billion dollars in revenue. Their top executives are making close to 1 million dollars a year, with their president Mark Emmert having a base salary of $1.462 million prior to bonuses. Similarly, the average salary of a Division I coach of a major sport (baseball, basketball, and football) sits close to $100,000. These coaches also receive bonuses if their team reaches the postseason or wins a championship, yet the players that lead these teams to victories not only don’t get a bonus, they get no money to start with. The NCAA also has deals with advertisers as well as television companies to make money broadcasting these amateur athletes. During March Madness, the tournament generated $1.15 billion in television ads, more than that generated by the NBA or NFL playoffs. Similarly, around the 2014 season, the NCAA reached a $10.8 billion television agreement over 14 years. Still, the athletes being broadcasted don’t receive a penny of the cash.

The NCAA claims that student-athletes are “amateurs” therefore giving themselves an out for not having to pay the athletes. It seems to be more allowing them to control how the billions of dollars they are earning are really used. Athletes do not need paychecks that they would be given every month, but they should at least have the opportunity to make some extra money off their abilities, like signing endorsements or getting money for signing autographs that would then be used for basic wants and needs of a college student.

It’s pretty simple. It’s time to pay athletes. The NCAA is a business making money, and their employees, the athletes, deserve a paycheck of some form.


The Cons by Jackson McFadden

One of the most debated questions that has surrounded college athletics for many years is the question of whether or not college athletes should be paid. The main argument of most people who are in favor of paying college athletes is that many college athletics are widely publicized on TV and there is a lot of merchandise that has the names of college athletes on it and so these athletes should get a cut of the money that comes in. However, it is right for college athletes to not be paid because most of them are already on some sort of scholarship, not all athletic programs bring in the same amount of money, and paying athletes would take away from the competitive spirit of the sport.

It does seem like it is rare to hear about an athlete receiving a full scholarship to go play a college sport and, indeed, it is rare. However, many athletes receive partial scholarships or, if the school does not give scholarships like division three schools, then the school will help the athlete get financial aid. These scholarships or financial aid act as payment, in a way. The athletes are getting an education, a meal plan, and housing for free or partially paid for. If the athletes got paid in addition to all of the perks from scholarships, college athletics would be almost identical to professional sports. In addition, for the players who begin their careers as walk-ons, if college athletes were paid, either the coaches for the teams would not take walk-ons anymore or the walk-ons would get paid and then they would not work to earn a scholarship. Players such as JJ Watt, Baker Mayfield, and Hunter Renfrow would not have had the motivation to earn a scholarship if they had been paid to start their careers in college, even as walk-ons.

In professional sports, most of the teams in a certain league or sport bring in similar amounts of money. An organization that is more successful on the field or court may bring in more money than an organization of the same sport that is not as successful, but it is not going to be a substantial amount. Therefore, the pay for the top athletes on each team will be similar to each other and the pay for the backups on the teams will be similar to each other. In college sports, the amount of money that each school and each sport brings in can vary greatly from that of another school. For example, the Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team brings in much more money than the Samford Men’s Basketball Team. Both of these teams participate in Division I but the Kentucky team is much more successful and gets on national TV more, gets more endorsement offers, and more companies that want to advertise at their games. All of these factors lead to the Kentucky basketball program, and the university as a whole, bringing in more money. Therefore, top players from Kentucky’s basketball team would get paid much more than the top players from Samford’s basketball team. This unequal pay would be unfair because the players are playing in the same Division, the same sport, and are the top players on their respective team.

Finally, if college athletes were being paid to play, the competitive spirit of the game would be taken away from the players and the sports would become less appealing to sports fans. Athletes who are passionate about a sport are always working to get better at that sport so that they can play at the next level. College athletes are a prime example of this hard work because many of these athletes are shown nationwide on TV. They are working to make it to the professional level of their sport so that they can make a living out of something they love. Because they are trying to make it to the next level, in every game, the athletes are attempting to play to their best in order to get noticed by professional scouts. When athletes play to their best, the games are usually competitive and are enjoyable to watch for fans. If these college athletes were getting paid, then they would not feel the need to try to play to their best because they were already being paid and so they athletics would become less intriguing to fans. Many fans enjoy college sports more than professional sports for that very reason. The professional athletes do not try to play to their best ability all the time because they have no drive to get to another level and because they are already getting paid.

If college athletes were paid to play, college sports would change drastically for the worst. Many athletes would lose the drive to work hard and get to the next level. In addition, there is already a payment system of sorts that comes in the form of scholarships and financial aid. It is the right move for college athletes to not get paid to play college sports.