Should College Athletes Be Paid? Experts Weigh In
College athletics generate nearly $1 trillion in annual revenue for the NCAA and its member institutions, yet relatively little of that goes to the real stars of the show. The average top-tier football or men’s basketball player earns his school roughly $200,000 per season, according to NCAA data, while being compensated to the tune of $14,000 in education, food and housing each year. And all of that can disappear just as quickly as an ACL can tear, as scholarships are not guaranteed.
Meanwhile, more than 100 football and men’s basketball coaches earn more than $1 million per year, as do nine athletic directors and at least 30 school presidents, according to WalletHub research. Even teaching assistants make nearly $16,000 per year.
So the question remains: Should college athletes receive direct monetary compensation for their efforts, or is amateurism too precious of an ideal to let go of just yet? There are arguments to be made both ways, so we posed the question to a panel of leading experts to help you better understand the diverse issues at hand. You can find their responses, including 8 Yes’s and 3 No’s, below.
College Athletes SHOULD Be Paid
- "The way I look at this issue is that college athletes should not be prevented from being paid. Putting aside whether universities should be footing the bill, the NCAA shouldn’t restrict the kinds of benefits and remuneration that college athletes might be able to earn in the marketplace. That is, athletes should be free to sign endorsement deals with Under Armour or do endorsements for the local car dealership. The analogy would be to a performance arts major acting in a commercial or performing in the local symphony. The university doesn’t pay these students, but they are not restricted from being compensated by outside parties for their talent and work."
- Shawn E. Klein, Arizona State University
- "College sports is the only industry in this country whereby the court system has essentially ruled that competing sellers (universities) of a commercial product (FBS football and D-I men's basketball) are allowed to conspire to suppress the value of the human capital that generates their profits. The system also permits these sellers to collectively dictate the process by which the labor can resolve disputes concerning their rights, eligibility, etc."
- Richard Karcher, Eastern Michigan University
- "I believe that college athletes who appear on television should be paid out of any money received by their respective schools from the television networks. ... Paying college athletes would encourage athletes to stay in school longer andnot leave for a professional career."
- Joseph M. Sofio, Built Sports
Yes, there should be a system in place by which college athletes are compensated equitably through expenses, some additional income and additional free education. But this is a complex issue. I also believe that an additional fund should be set up to provide some further compensation to athletes in highly profitable programs and for those whose individual names and likenesses are successfully marketed. I do not believe such a system should pay college athletes equivalent to their earning power as professionals provided they have the alternative option at the time to pursue a professional career.
There are three basic reasons on which my opinion is based:
- The tremendous time commitment college athletes must spend to succeed in their sport leaves them without much extra time to earn the money for basic living expenses needed to survive properly in a collegiate environment. For example, former University of Connecticut National Champion leader, now Orlando Magic Guard, Shabazz Nabier, was quoted often, saying he went to bed starving because he didn’t have money for food. Such a situation is ridiculous.
- In some instances, college sports have become very big business and the treatment of athletes is based on a system created several generations ago that is now antiquated.
- A college scholarship and degree opens doors for most young men and women; its value should not be trivialized, although should be supplemented.
- When the NCAA was created several generations ago along with its rules restricting athlete compensation, the money involved then was far less than it is now. Bowl game revenue from the College Football Playoff last year was $400 million. In our 21st century DVR world, the unique value of live action sports entertainment will continue to ascend as the best place for advertisers to sell their products and reward continued escalating broadcasting contracts to college football conferences.
- Over the last few years, as college athletes began to recognize the value they bring to collegiate athletic programs, monetary benefits to athletes increased substantially. The increase was over $120 million in 2015. Supplemental "cost of attendance" benefits give stipends to athletes and substantially improved the food available to them. This payment should continue to increase as athletes more aggressively pursue their value.
- As long as there are professional alternatives available to athletes where they can receive their fair market value, it is reasonable for the athletes to individually make the choice to pursue a less immediately lucrative option. Basketball players can earn a living immediately after high school (although I believe their options are unfairly limited by the one and done rule) and baseball players have the option to go pro either after high school or after 3 years of college. While football players, unfairly must wait 3 years, in reality very few of them are physically mature enough to compete professionally before that time. But some football players are sufficiently developed after the first two years of their college career to compete on a professional level.
My client, former Stanford All American linebacker Shayne Skov was not eligible as an underclassman to become a professional after an Orange Bowl performance that included three sacks among his 12 tackles, which clearly established as a top NFL draft prospect. Education being paramount to Shayne and his family, he likely would have returned to school to pursue his Stanford engineering degree even if he had been eligible to become a professional. He did not have the choice though under NCAA and NFL rules relating to professional eligibility for underclassmen. The following college year he suffered a significant knee injury which unquestionably cost him several million dollars in earning potential. Through hard work he subsequently developed a career in the NFL where he now plays for the 49ers but without close to the bonus he could have received before his injury.
He and all other collegiate athletes should have the choice whether to be amateurs or professionals. For example, Indianapolis Colts Superstar Quarterback, Andrew Luck, who had completed three years of college eligibility, chose another year at Stanford over millions of dollars in the National Football League in 2011. He earned his degree and subsequently became the highest paid player in the NFL anyway. As long as the player has a choice, there is issue with the player maintaining his amateur status in college rather than being paid the riches of a professional. The best system is the college basketball model where a collegian can gauge his pre-draft market value and as long as he has not hired an agent, can return to school as an amateur. This system would work best if there were independent league evaluation panels that can give a player a rough idea of where he is rated on a professional level.
Systems are presently in place where athletes can assess their pro potential.
- To the extent a school is making money off of an individual player's likeness (for example a Heisman candidate shirt sales), a royalty should be set aside for the player or for the benefit of the players on the team. This model is similar to the one that is presently applied to Olympic athletes. To the extent a school is making income from a certain sport beyond a certain threshold, some money should be set aside to benefit the athletes as a group. In a world where coaches make multimillion dollar contracts and schools sign multimillion dollar television deals, it is reasonable for some of these funds to go to the benefit of the players after their experience at college is over. Television contracts for major college team sports have grown at tremendous multiples. Games are scheduled on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights to generate money, yet these moves have no positive benefit for the athlete’s scholastic career. There's a balance though that must be made, cash rich sports help finance sports running in the red and there's a huge societal benefit in helping those sports survive. Also, many college athletic programs do not make money. It may become necessary to further create separate tiers of schools so that the less prosperous schools can avoid being forced to compete directly with the wealthier schools.
- The current system is basically an exchange of a free education for the athlete providing his athletic ability and time. If that truly is the trade off, then the educational benefits should be more in line with the value of the player’s time. For example, if the compensation is education, the graduated player should have unlimited access to education and degrees in exchange for his valuable services (provided such athlete qualifies for admission). I also strongly believe that the schedules of games should return to one that is more conducive to an academic career.
Steve Baker is a Bay Area sports attorney and law professor. Baker negotiated what was at the time the largest quarterback, linebacker and special teams player deals in the NFL. He has worked with NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and Olympic Athletes as well as sports broadcasters.
The main mission of higher education is to educate the next generation to take on the tasks of leading our society into the future. And, though I have argued quite strongly in my work that it’s an illusion that many student athletes are receiving and/or interested in pursuing higher education, I remain committed to the mission of higher education and offer some alternatives that allow student athletes to get the support they need to pursue both their athletic goals and their educational aspirations.
For many reasons, student-athletes should not be paid in exchange for their athletic talent alone. First and foremost because their talents do not directly contribute to the educational mission of the college or university they attend. Therefore, paying them for their performance alone violates the integrity of the institutional mission.
And, there are practical problems with this approach as well. For example, how would we evaluate which athlete to pay and how much? Is a touchdown in a bowl game worth more than winning the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Division 1 Championships in Eugene? Does it matter if the bowl game is the Rose Bowl or the Weed Whacker Bowl? What about the practice squad player who makes his or her teammates better but rarely sees regulation play?
That said, as many others have argued, the scholarship most athletes receive does not cover the actual cost of attendance, and because scholarship athletes are prohibited from working summer jobs, as all other students are allowed to do, it is often difficult for them to close the gap between the cost of attending and their scholarship. Not surprisingly, this is a major factor that contributes to misconduct, especially student-athletes being offered and accepting money from donors and coaches ‘under the table.’
So, we must address this issue if we are to ensure the integrity of the institution of higher learning and the sport. Though clearly the majority of misconduct involves football and men’s basketball players, the difficulty in closing the gap between the scholarship and the actual cost of attendance, and the prohibition on summer jobs, extends to all athletes. And, therefore, I argue that athletes playing all sports (including cross country, field hockey, tennis etc) must be included in any plan.
I admit that this perspective will be met with controversy because many people believe, wrongly, that football pays the bills. In fact, only 10 or 15 athletic departments return a profit at the end of every year, the rest are in the ‘red,’ and for the revenue that football and men’s basketball teams do generate, they spend nearly every dollar. They eat what they catch. It is also a myth that it is not possible for universities to pay all student athletes the cost of attendance, in fact, as I will demonstrate, by employing relative minor measures, such as capping the salary of head football coaches, reducing the costs of travel, and reducing ultra-luxury expenses, such as unlimited supplies of shoes for men’s basketball players, a budget model could be developed to pay for all student athletes to attend college.
The particulars I recommend:
At each institution of higher education, use the estimate of the actual cost of attendance to determine the size of the gap between the scholarship and the cost to students. Colleges and universities routinely do this so that they can develop financial aid estimates for all students.
Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics, calculate the average amount of money earned by the typical college student working a full-time summer job. This figure then becomes the ‘stipend’ that is offered to student athletes in addition to the monies used to close the gap between the scholarship and the cost of attendance. This procedure would fairly and equitably address the critique that athletes are prohibited from working in the summer and more importantly would not treat them differently than all other students attending the college or university.
Where would this extra money come from? I have thought about this as well, but I am sure much more thought will be necessary. I feel that the money taken in on all aspects of sporting events from the previous year is a good starting point. This would include gate receipts, gifts to the department, and shares of money the athletic department receives out of the conference pool of funds for participation in post-season play etc. As noted, it could also come from careful budgeting practices that provide teams, athletes, and coaches with what they need, not what they want. This notion that a team should keep and spend all of the money that comes to it is ridiculous and not at all the way that the rest of the university operates. For example, a hot shot professor who is successfully awarded lots of grants does not get to keep all of that money, a sizeable portion goes directly in the general operating budget of the university and can be allocated for any financial needs the university has, not in any way limited to the needs or wants of the professor who received the award.
I am well aware that proposals for reform in college sports will have flaws. I am also mindful that any program put in place to compensate student-athletes will have to address the big questions of why the revenue generating sports should fund non-revenue sports. But remember, all of the student-athletes are students first!
Yet, I do feel a five-year trial period for the aforementioned would give us some indication of how we can avoid turning the ‘Intercollegiate Athletic Experience’ into a side-show –a circus-- of higher education, which is what will happen when the big high profile sports, at the big high profile institutions, pay out money to their star athletes in exchange for their athletic talent. Keep an eye on the so-called Power Five Conference and you will see what I am talking about.
Whether collegiate athletes should be paid to play is not a simple question. Nor is actual monetary compensation the only way to compensate an athlete for their collegiate participation. For the past 25-30 years many observers have advocated providing compensation over and above the existing scholarship limits of tuition, room, board and books—particularly to athletes in the so-called revenue producing sports of football and men’s and women’s basketball. Others have argued for maintaining amateurism. Nearly 20 years ago I published two law review articles advocating a couple of different approaches to compensation. I also noted that there were a number of legal and practical obstacles to such a plan.
Little has changed in 20 years. The amateur sports domain of the NCAA is a very commercial enterprise. Division I athletics produces over $10 billion in revenues annually. The University of Texas led all Division I programs with revenues of $180 million for the 2014-15 school year. The elite collegiate conferences have their own television networks. The 30 highest paid football coaches make over $3 million per year, and the 20 highest paid basketball coaches earn over $2 million. And the Big 10, SEC, Big 12, ACC, and Pac12 now have the autonomy to make their own rules within certain limits.
20 years ago, the NCAA was proudly pointing to a restructuring of the organization that would bring new benefits to the athletes. That process did provide a special fund for needy athletes and restrictions were lifted on athletes being employed during the school year. Today, the new structure allowing the Power 5 Conferences to make rules has produced the benefit of athletes being provided a stipend to bring the value of the scholarship up to the full cost of attendance at their school. Athletes can now borrow money based upon their athletic ability to purchase loss–of-value insurance that protects them in case of injury that lowers their professional sports earning power.
But despite these changes, the athletes who are the prime drivers of the revenue flow for the 345 Division I schools still cannot be paid directly for the services they provide. And while the 9th Circuit in the O’Bannon case did say that the NCAA’s restrictions on being paid, even up to the full cost of attendance, violate the antitrust rules, the ultimate ramifications of this decision are still very unclear.
Unfortunately, there is no simple remedy for the imbalance. Creating a free-market environment where schools could pay athletes over and above the scholarship would likely result in the athletes being deemed employees. That creates numerous legal issues and additional financial obligations for the schools. Any system of payment would carry with it gender equity considerations.
Perhaps the most expedient and cost effective way to provide further benefits to the athletes would be to allow them to benefit from the use of their name and likeness. Compensation would come not from the schools, but from memorabilia dealers, video game distributors, modeling agencies and the like. In addition, the NCAA could eliminate the restrictions on athletes entering into agreements with agents. The use of an agent in many cases would allow the athlete to make rational decisions about potential professional opportunities. Likewise, the restrictions on returning to collegiate competition after entering a professional sports draft should be lifted. Finally, there must also be support for athletes who do not have star power.
As I wrote 20 years ago, collegiate sports is not, and perhaps never was, purely amateur. The NCAA must continue to improve the working conditions and benefits for the people who are most responsible for the product put on the field, the players.
College sports is the only industry in this country whereby the court system has essentially ruled that competing sellers (universities) of a commercial product (FBS football and D-I men's basketball) are allowed to conspire to suppress the value of the human capital that generates their profits. The system also permits these sellers to collectively dictate the process by which the labor can resolve disputes concerning their rights, eligibility, etc. Imagine if all the law firms in the U.S. formed an association and collectively and unilaterally adopted rules that cap the annual salary of all associate attorneys at the price of their law school tuition and that any disputes concerning their rights could only be adjudicated by arbitrators selected by the law firms.
The NCAA's ‘Principle of Amateurism’ is grounded in a historic and antiquated paternalistic ideal that these adult athletes with unique talents are children (‘student-athletes’) who should be thankful for the ‘opportunity’ to participate and must be protected from the evil forces of commercialization: ‘Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises’ (NCAA Bylaw 2.9). When the governor of my state signed a bill at the end of 2014 during holiday recess, without a hearing, that prohibits a segment of the population (athletes at public universities) from attempting to form a labor union (when they have never even tried), it was an abuse of power that is tolerated in large part because the NCAA has successfully convinced a large portion of society that athletes don't deserve to be treated like everyone else in this country.
If the justification for a system that denies athletes in the profit sports of FBS football and D-I men's basketball the right to be treated like everyone else in this country (i.e. the right to not have the value of their services collectively and unilaterally suppressed by those who compete for their services) is that these two revenue sports subsidize all the other sports, that doesn't answer the question why the athletes in these two sports are the only ones who must give up their proportionate share of the revenue pie to cover the subsidy.
‘Should college athletes be paid?’ is the wrong question. First, it is far too broad. The question of paying athletes only applies to a very small subset of college athletes — even of elite, top-level college athletes. The players on Maryland’s men lacrosse team, some of the best in the world, are not getting a payday. It is an open issue only for a handful of top football and men’s basketball programs—but even there the economics of paying athletes in those programs is a matter of some debate.
Second, the question ignores the issue of who it is that should be doing the paying. The schools? The NCAA? Boosters? Nike? The how of paying athletes is not a straightforward matter — especially with regulations such as Title IX. And this ‘how’ influences the way we answer the ‘should’ question.
Lastly, the question sidesteps important issues about amateurism and the role of college athletics in the university. The NCAA vigorously defends its view of amateurism. Ostensibly this is to preserve the place of college athletics at the university. The claim seemingly being that if college athletics isn’t amateur, then it doesn’t have a place in mission of the university. This claim, as well as the value of amateurism, is fraught with problems. I am not sure either can be reasonably defended. That said, these issues need to be addressed to be able to answer the question of paying college athletes, but they are often ignored by pundits.
The way I look at this issue is that college athletes should not be prevented from being paid. Putting aside whether universities should be footing the bill, the NCAA shouldn’t restrict the kinds of benefits and remuneration that college athletes might be able to earn in the marketplace. That is, athletes should be free to sign endorsement deals with Under Armour or do endorsements for the local car dealership. The analogy would be to a performance arts major acting in a commercial or performing in the local symphony. The university doesn’t pay these students, but they are not restricted from being compensated by outside parties for their talent and work.
This solution has the benefit of allowing college athletes the chance to be compensated for their hard work and efforts, to share in the largess of college athletics to which they contribute. It doesn’t interfere with the NCAA’s revenue stream and ability to support the so-called non-revenue sports (such as water polo or gymnastics). It might also help reverse the one-and-done trend in basketball as players might be willing to stay in college longer if they aren’t feeling the pressure of having to go pro so quickly—simultaneously improving the NCAA, the NBA, and maybe even college graduate rates.
Personally, I believe that student-athletes should get some sort of deferred compensation if they are playing at a BCS school.
I'm not quite sure how I would distribute the dollars, but it would be some sort of formula based on getting a degree, the school profiting on that players' likeness and the merchandise deal the school has during that players four years of on the field playtime. Money should be put in to an escrow account and paid out sometime after the student athletes last collegiate game.
Additionally, I believe that any scholarship student athlete in good academic standing should receive a discretionary per diem in addition to their basic per diem to cover some of the other costs that go along with being a college student who is not allowed to work. These other costs can include tickets to movies, concerts, school sporting events as well as dating, warm clothes, spring break trips, extra tickets for extended family members or friends, etc.
Most importantly, I believe any student-athlete on an athletic scholarship who receives an undergraduate degree should be able to attend any graduate program at that school on scholarship, if admitted. To me, the ladder is a given and should have been in place already.
In conclusion, college sports is big business and the talent should not be discounted.
I believe that college athletes who appear on television should be paid out of any money received by their respective schools from the television networks.
The majority of income generated by college sports is derived directly from television revenue. Most people appearing on television are paid as members of the Screen Actors Guild, with specific rates for network vs. cable and primetime vs. non-primetime television. Professional athletes are excluded from this system under the theory that they are paid for these rights under through their contracts. College athletes are not compensated for these rights, and they should be. There is plenty of money generated through television income to pay these athletes.
Rates could be established for each athlete’s television appearance based on screen time and the networks agreement for these competitions. The funds could be held in trust account and released to the athletes within a specified period from leaving college. This would eliminate the issue of which athletes to pay and the disparity between revenue generating sports (football and basketball) and non-generating sports. If the NCAA golf championship was on television those athletes would be compensated at a rate commensurate with the network and time of day.
Paying college athletes would encourage athletes to stay in school longer and not leave for a professional career.
In recent years, there has been a lot of debate regarding whether the NCAA should change its rules regarding direct payment to athletes. The proponents of allowing this would point out that college athletes bring in billions of dollar in revenue and do not get to share in the profits. As someone who believes in free markets, this argument is appealing to me because in a free society we should be able to reap the benefits when we provide a service. However, athletes already do reap some benefits by getting to go to college at no expense to themselves.
The question is does this go far enough to adequately compensate them for their sacrifice, and the answer in general is yes. Most college athletic departments end up losing money rather than making it and if we were to pay all athletes it would put a strain on the colleges who could not afford to pay enough to attract the best talent. Also, if the NCAA allowed direct payment of athletes there would likely be issues with Title IX since men’s sports tend to bring in more revenue than woman’s sports.
There is a middle ground that I think would provide athletes the ability to be compensated without fundamentally changing the nature of college athletics. Athletes should be allowed to trade and profit on their name. For example, the schools make a significant amount of money selling the jerseys of their star players. The athletes should be allowed to enter into a profit sharing arrangement so they are compensated for this. College athletes should also be allowed to endorse products for a profit as well as sell any signed merchandise. If the NCAA allowed this compromise then the schools would not be in the position to directly pay their athletes but the athletes would be allowed to benefit from their labor.
If the NCAA allows this, I believe it wouldn't change the nature of college athletics but it would allow the athletes who bring in revenue to actually receive some form of compensation for their efforts. As an attorney, I have never thought the restriction on profiting from your own name was ever a valid restriction to begin with and I think it is time that the NCAA lifts that once and for all.
Of course college athletes should be paid – salaries, in addition to all costs associated with attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, etc.). The athletes (not the coaches) are the producers of what has become a very lucrative source of entertainment. Having said that, I’d like to discuss other relevant issues that will help determine just how much college athletes ought to be paid.
First, most college athletic programs do not make money. Perhaps 30 or so of the Power Five conference members actually turn a profit. The others are heavily subsidized and still throwing money down a seemingly bottomless pit. Athletic programs are best understood as nothing more than enhancements to the undergraduate learning experience. Those few student athletes who benefit from such experiences should be appreciative that their classmates are subsidizing them, just as students in theater companies and orchestras do.
Second, costs at the top tier of college entertainment sport are obscene and the manner in which they are financially accounted for are deceptive. No Division I athletics coach should make more that the University’s president, let alone be the highest salaried employee in the state (as many football and men’s basketball coaches are). Athletics programs should also not be subsidized as most are with student fees. Many regular students don’t even know that a portion of their $300 every semester fee is actually doing such. Additionally, athletics programs should actually pay for the cost and maintenance of their facilities – a practice that is quite rare indeed.
If the actual costs and expenses of operating an entertainment college sport franchise were above board, then payment of athletes would be fairly straightforward and the salaries would be miniscule. But, I am a realist and I am certain that this will not happen without a huge culture shift and many more legal challenges. Instead, the NCAA cartel will continue to work hand in hand with the media monsters and that means keeping the labor costs at close to zero. At least most of the Power Five conferences are now guaranteeing their athletes the entirety of the cost of an undergraduate degree.
What I would argue for, which may actually be achievable, is to simply discontinue this charade by allowing those colleges and universities that wish to have professional sports teams on and linked to their campuses to do so. After all, what is NCAA Division I football other than the minor league for the NFL? The same can be said for men’s and women’s basketball and to a much lesser degree and in some parts of the country baseball and men’s ice hockey? Our society could even demand that the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL simply pay for their own minor leagues. Of course that won’t happen either because tax payers in many cities already continue to make insane decisions against their own self-interests by subsidizing the building of stadia that they can’t afford to visit.
In conclusion, college athletes should be paid and eventually they will – when hell freezes over.
College Athletes Should NOT Be Paid
- "Remunerating these young people makes them employees, not students. Colleges and universities should work for them, not the reverse. Many student athletes receive scholarships to help pay for their education. They may be exploited by over-zealous coaches who overwork them, TV networks that impose game scheduling that interferes with academic time, and outdated NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from taking jobs. But it is the NCAA’s and school administrators’ responsibility to protect, not abuse them."
- Howard P. Chudacoff, Brown University
- "Most high- profile college athletes really have very little leverage in a genuine job market. A full grant-in-aid provides both direct and indirect resources from which one can pursue significant, substantive educational and professional goals. Its attractiveness stands out when one considers the financial challenges and loan debts that face most of the nation’s college students."
- John R. Thelin, University of Kentucky
- "I believe that paying athletes who have no notion of the importance or the value of education presently would only make these sexy- sport athletes even more lost in the quest for an education."
- Sharon Kay Stoll, University of Idaho
Pay for Play? No Way!
Paying salaries to college athletes is a bad idea. It extends – rather than curbs – the commercialization of big-time college sports. One alleged justification is that, after all, college athletes are ‘unpaid professionals.’ An illogical corollary is that is that since many college coaches are highly paid, therefore, college players are entitled to salaries.
In fact, college student athletes receive a great opportunity for an education, a degree, and preparation for any number of professional and career pursuits.
Any plan for salaries most likely will be confined to a small number of big time sports at big time universities. Football and men’s basketball will dominate, although some other men’s sports such as baseball and hockey might gain some presence. These players and programs will gain a sense of privilege and entitlement which further sets them apart from both the student body and from student athletes in other sports. So, we should be clear that paying salaries does not benefit college student-athletes in general.
If a university were to adopt ‘pay for play,’ it would do well to consider that it will jeopardize its athletics program’s standing with the IRS as a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit charity. Furthermore, elevating a small number of sports and student athletes into the salaried category probably will bring federal law suits for the university’s potential violation of Title IX.
Most high-profile college athletes really have very little leverage in a genuine job market. A full grant-in-aid provides both direct and indirect resources from which one can pursue significant, substantive educational and professional goals. Its attractiveness stands out when one considers the financial challenges and loan debts which face most of the nation’s college students.
What college officials ought to do is work to persuade professional sports leagues to drop player age restrictions. If an 18 year old star athlete wishes to pursue a career in the NBA or the NFL or MLB, let’s open the marketplace without delay. Meanwhile, most student athletes will be able to have accessible, affordable college experiences which can combine excellence in both academics and athletics. It’s hardly a perfect configuration, but it is distinctive and worthy nurturing.
There is no need to pay college athletes. There are nearly a half-million college athletes in the United States. Most of them devote 40 or more hours a week to their sport in season, 20 or more hours a week out of season. About 10,000 of them (2 percent), play football and men’s basketball at 65 big-time sports schools. Through their performance, these athletes help generate millions of dollars in what is one of the country’s top entertainment enterprises. Should they, unlike the other 98 percent of college athletes, be paid for making the flow of cash possible? Should other athletes, who sacrifice their physical and mental well-being by toiling so many hours a week also be paid? I say no to both.
First, remunerating these young people makes them employees, not students. Colleges and universities should work for them, not the reverse. Many student athletes receive scholarships to help pay for their education. They may be exploited by over-zealous coaches who overwork them, TV networks that impose game scheduling that interferes with academic time, and outdated NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from taking jobs. But it is the NCAA’s and school administrators’ responsibility to protect, not abuse them. Recently, the NCAA has responded by accepting the principle of increasing scholarship aid to cover the ‘full cost of education’ (several thousand dollars a year) and initiating attempts to reduce time demands on athletes. These steps presumably temper the exploitation, but critics claim they are not sufficient.
More importantly, student-athletes at elite sports schools and at others, receive material benefits that enhance their academic and athletic opportunities in ways that actual payment could provide. I refer to the opulent academic resource centers and athletic training centers that have been and are being built exclusively for college athletes. Epitomizing these (but still representative) is the University of Oregon’s Jaqua Academic Center, which includes an auditorium, tutor rooms, computer lab, graphics lab, study carrels, lounge with flat-screen TVs, and café. Except for the café, none of these facilities may be accessed by non-athlete students. Training centers for varsity athletes are equally luxurious. The Anderson Football Training Center at the University of Tennessee, for example, spans 145,000 square feet, and includes a multi-level weight and cardio area, nutrition bar, a 7,000-square-foot locker room with connections for mobile devices at each locker, hydrotherapy pools, physician’s clinic, X-ray room, pharmacy, amphitheater, lounge with video-game consoles, and dining hall.
Nearly every big-time sports program has, or is trying to have, centers like these. They serve as costly recruiting tools but also as rewards for onsite performers, rewards that no other students receive. I agree that college athletes should be compensated for commercial use of their likenesses, but when they have benefits from free tutors, free personal computers, private libraries and labs, and full-service lounges, plus access to the best coaches, the best trainers, the best training equipment, the best dietary supervision, the best physical therapy and recovery regimes, and more, it is hard to advocate that they should be paid.
On first glance, one would argue yes, considering college coaching salaries presently, and the income generated. However, there are many ancillary questions and concerns. I will address just a few.
- I am assuming the question has to do with the ‘sexy’ sports – the revenue producing sports. The non-revenue producing sports would not have the funds to pay athletes. Thus the question really has to do with football, basketball, and perhaps women’s basketball in some cases. Just this designation runs into all sorts of bugaboos. If Title IX is held in consideration, then all sports should be treated relatively the same – how would all of these athletes be compensated? Or would it be on some sort of percentage ranking based on the amount of revenue – or relative importance.
Good luck with that – it would be interesting to see how that is ferreted out. Here at Idaho none of the women’s sports brings in any semblance of revenue, nor do the non-sexy men’s sports of track and field, cross country, golf or tennis.
- So, assuming that the above could be ferreted out – or in the exception only pay the sexy sports athletes – I would vote no, even though the salaries of the sexy-sport coaches are outrageous, and the top-tier schools and the NCAA have a phenomenal income stream. I teach courses in which athletes must enroll – general education. Of the athletes I have seen in the last five years, I would hazard a guess that 1% of the male athletes in the sexy sports have any notion of what a college education expects, and the rest coast through getting the best grade possible for the least amount of work. This is not true of the women athletes, or the non-sexy sport athletes. However, if the freshman athletes in the sexy sports actually make it to junior level (I teach another general education course), I have found them athletes to be more attentive and on task.
Now, what has that to do with pay? I believe that paying athletes who have no notion of the importance or the value of education presently would only make these sexy-sport athletes even more lost in the quest for an education. Wasn’t it Cardale Jones who said as a freshman, ‘Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS’? Most of the sexy-sport athletes I have taught – and it is a goodly number – would agree,perhaps not in an open forum, to that statement in their freshman year.
- LeBron James said this past year when he donated a large sum of money to the University of Akron, and the children of Akron to attend college, that the biggest mistake he ever made was not attending college. And he said his children would not make the same mistake. Apparently, he too thinks a college education is a rather important thing to achieve.
No. When college coaches are paid in excess of a million dollars a year, the image of the “exploited athlete” is palpable. It seems clear that the wealth, produced by the athletes’ labor, should be shared. They should be paid. For two reasons, however, I am opposed to this policy recommendation. The issue is more complex than first impressions might suggest.
First, the pay-the-athletes position is predicated on the mistaken assumption that college athletes receive no compensation. But there is a reason why they leave college debt free whereas the typical student may be paying student loans for years, if not decades into the future: Athletes receive scholarships that cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board. This package is worth — annually — between $20,000 and $30,000 at public universities (assuming that only in-state tuition is charged). For private schools, the costs can easily exceed $50,000 a year. For example, the estimated “cost of attendance for 2016-2017” at football power Notre Dame is $67,043.
In addition, athletes receive free medical care and, when injured, coverage for MRIs and surgeries that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars. They have access to academic support service and individual tutoring — a luxury that regular students would have to purchase privately at $50 an hour. They receive individual personal strength training, another service that would cost others $50 or more per session. For the very few athletes who have the potential to play sports professionally, they receive four to five years of expert coaching — all for free. They also receive widespread publicity, including television exposure, that makes them public figures and can dramatically increase their market value.
It is difficult to put a price tag on the compensation package that student-athletes receive, but it is likely upwards of $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Not bad for exploited labor. The reality is that there is an unlimited number of other athletes who would cherish the opportunity to be “exploited” in this way! In fact, many of these play at the Division II level (where only partial scholarships are often awarded) or at the Division III level (where no athletic scholarships are awarded).
The other reality is that the athletic prowess of most athletes has no economic value outside the opportunity offered by colleges. If athletes’ skills have true value, they can cash in by leaving college and becoming professionals —as a few, in fact, do. The rest of the student-athletes are rational as well: They choose play college sports because it is a good deal.
Second, the campaign to pay players ignores the fact that the vast majority of college athletes, including most females, participate in sports that do not produce much, if any revenue. Who, then, is to be paid? Only those male athletes who play revenue-generating sports such as basketball and football? Perhaps as well the few female athletes in programs (e.g., UConn basketball) that have high attendance and are profitable? Alas, given Title IX and a general sense of equity, it is neither legal nor moral to pay some athletes and not others. And since most college athletic programs already are subsidized by general funds from university budgets, there simply is not enough money to pay every athlete playing every sport.
Finally, the focus on paying athletes obscures what I see at the true problem with college sports: that athletes at many schools are awarded scholarships one year at a time. When recruited, they are not guaranteed four years of funding. This largely hidden provision gives college athletic programs the incentive to cut off funding for those recruits who do not manifest high-level athletic performance. By contrast, if all universities were required to offer four-year scholarships that could not be rescinded for any reason, they would have the strong incentive to invest in all student-athletes throughout their time at the university. In short, pay athletes — no. Give mandatory four-year scholarships to all athletes recruited to college programs — yes.
Honestly, in my opinion, college athletes are already paid. As a rower, I had the unique experience of being a college athlete in a club program at the University of Dayton, before women’s rowing was recognized as a NCAA sport, and then as a graduate student on a full Division I scholarship at Temple University, after the sport became supported by the NCAA. I was incredulous when I received my check each semester for off campus housing and meals. I thought, “Is this for real?” I did nothing more than when I was a club level collegiate athlete, yet everything was covered and more… and that was 20 years ago.
I recently had the opportunity to cover a leave for a Division I Head Coach and let me tell you, the deal has sweetened in the past two decades since I was an athlete. Not only can athletes receive full scholarships, books, fees, housing and meal stipends (on or off campus), loads of clothing, shoes, and gear, but they can also submit receipts for reimbursement of personal expenses they encounter above and beyond what they’ve been given. Clearly there are limits in place, but think back to your college days – wouldn’t it have been nice to have this type of funding and continue playing the sport you love with access to academic support personnel dedicated to your success, the best coaches, trainers and teammates, travel opportunities both domestic and international, and high level competition?
Those who argue that college athletes should be paid are really focused on a small percentage of high profile athletes, in football and basketball, that are revenue drivers for their institutions and do not receive funding above and beyond their tuition, room, board, books, fees, clothing, personal expenses, access to meals 24/7, etc. I would add to this list the fact that they can also receive a degree, sometimes undergraduate and graduate, given eligibility rules. To be fair, the same people supporting pay for college athletes would argue that the athletes’ schedules are such that they are unable to successfully complete the degree(s) available to them. I disagree. My perspective is that they may not finish because the culture these athletes are a part of does not value degree completion. Because guess what? It is important to note that athletes, in general, graduate at a higher rate than non-athletes.
And here’s another wrench… if we really want to pay the top percentage of football and basketball players that drive revenue, the bigger question becomes, why are we requiring them to be students at all? The United States could simply follow the model of the rest of the world and move to a club system whereby athletes focus on their sport full-time once they complete the required level of schooling. As a professional working in sport, I can see the logic in this, but as a fan of our American sport system and college athletics, I despise the idea.
I believe the reason we are not seeing a large-scale uprising from the ranks of college athletes asking to be paid is simple – they understand they have an amazing deal.
Image: Alex Belomlinsky / iStock.
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