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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Today, sports are no longer fun and games, sports are a business, and college sports are no different. College sports provide a huge source of universities' income. The school takes in money from ticket sales, television contracts, and sport-related merchandise, just to name a few. The athletes, however, receive their scholarship and little more. While the prospect of receiving a free college education is something few would complain about, when the issue is more closely examined it becomes evident that it is not enough. The universities are exploiting athletes, and recently the problems that this creates have become more prominent. More and more athletes are now leaving school early to enter the professional leagues and make money. There have also been more reports of violations surrounding university boosters and alumni paying players. Furthermore, athletes have been accused of making deals with gamblers and altering the outcome of games. All of these problems could be minimized, if not completely eliminated, by adopting a program for compensating student athletes. College athletes are exploited by their schools, which make millions of dollars off of them. This leads to violations, students leaving college early, and student-athletes that cannot even afford to do their laundry. The NCAA and professional leagues can work together to institute a plan to compensate these athletes and remedy all these problems.

Student athletes need money just like any other college students, and many of them need it even more. According to Steve Wulf, many college athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds (94). This means that while the free tuition is nice, they are still going to need money for other expenses that every college student faces. The NCAA finally realized this recently and decided to allow athletes to have a job earning up to $2000 during the school year (Greenlee 63). This, while well intended, is an impossibility for many, if not the majority of college athletes. As Greenlee states, "The hours athletes would spend working at a job are already spoken for" (63). The sport they play is their job; it takes up as much time (likely more) as the normal student's job at the cafeteria or student center, yet they do not get paid. The schools have to make up for this by finding some way to compensate these athletes.

The main reason behind not giving college athletes some form of compensation is that college athletes must be amateurs and if they are paid they will lose their status as amateurs. Amateurs are defined as being non-professional, or not in the activity for gain. Many people say the fact that college athletes are amateurs and not paid gives college sports their appeal (Bruinis 1). However, these rules have been extended so far that athletes can barely get a check from their grandmother in the mail without red flags going up. Under the current rules, colleges cannot recruit athletes who have competed with professionals, accepted money from benefactors to be used for things such as private high school tuition, accepted prize money won in competitions, or played for money in any league. Furthermore, current college athletes cannot be paid for giving lessons in their sport or accept grants from the U.S. Olympic committee (Suggs 54). A player cannot do anything that might jeopardize his/her status as an amateur. This rule is far-reaching, even affecting work outside of the sports world. For example, Darnell Autry, University of Northwestern running back and theater major, went to Italy over the summer and appeared in a movie. He could not be paid for his services in the movie because it would damage his amateur status (Greenlee 63). This had nothing to do with college football, yet it was still a violation of NCAA rules. The amateur rules only create more problems and put an infinite number of restrictions on student athletes that just are not fair.

The comparison of what student athletes get versus what they give makes it very obvious that they are exploited. Many of the athletes receive their education free, which can range from about $7,000 to $30,000 a year. However, college programs generate thousands more off of the athlete. Recently, the University of Notre Dame signed a five- season 38 million dollar contract with NBC for its home football games (Wulf 94). If there were 100 full scholarship football players for Notre Dame, that would equal $380,000 per player just from the TV revenues. This does not even take into account the ticket revenues, championship or bowl game payouts, and merchandise sold because of the players. Notre Dame is not the only school making million dollar deals like this one. The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) makes approximately 242 million dollars off of TV revenues each year (Bruinius 1). When college athletes only receive a scholarship of around $18,000 it would appear that since they can bring in up to 13 million, college athletes are being exploited.

The simple fact that the colleges are making millions off of these athletes means that they are exploiting them and the NCAA constitution proves this. This constitution states that, "student athletes shall be amateurs…and should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises." The problem with this rule is that it fails to acknowledge that university athletic programs are commercial enterprises, especially recently. The objective of college athletic programs is to generate money (Murphy and Pace 168). If colleges are recognized in this way as commercial enterprises, it appears that colleges are violating the NCAA constitution. This means that college athletes are exploited even by universities' own definition. It is exploitation in a form as obvious as any other form of servitude. Former executive director of the NCAA Walter Byers states, "The coaches own the athletes' feet, the colleges own the athletes' bodies, and the supervisors retain the large rewards. That reflects a neoplantation mentality on the campuses that is not appropriate at this time of high dollars" (qtd. in Wulf 94). In other words, Byers is saying the universities are using these athletes for a type of slave labor. The big business is making a lot of money, and the ones who make it possible are not seeing a cent of the revenue they generate.

Colleges try to discredit the exploitation argument by downplaying the amount of money athletics brings to the university. Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White stated that very few colleges actually make a profit from their athletics. He said somewhere in the range of 5-15 out of over 100 Division I schools make a profit. However, this does not mean that the colleges are not bringing in a fair amount of revenue from their athletics. There are a lot of colleges that rely on athletics for a lot of revenue; however, they do not have cost effective programs, so they do not make a profit. This argument cannot discredit the exploitation argument unless schools bring in no revenue (not profit) from their athletics.

Exploitation is a problem in itself, but it also causes many others, and these are increasing at an unacceptable rate. One of these problems is the increase in NCAA violations by student athletes, in particular, gambling. The athletes need money and they can get it by making deals with gamblers. Athletes agree to alter the outcome of the game by playing poorly (shaving points), thus allowing the gamblers to pick the other team and make money. Former Arizona State basketball players Hedake Smith and Isaac Burton admitted to shaving points numerous times to get some spending money and money to give to their financially disadvantaged families (Smith and Yeager 95). They were caught and the university was placed under probation because of it. While the NCAA claims that paying players would damage the purity of the game, I think gambling and point shaving do more damage to the integrity of college sports.

Another factor related to this issue is the increasing number of college athletes leaving school early to go pro. While this may not damage the purity or integrity of the game, it does damage the quality of it. What colleges are failing to realize is that the players that are leaving early for the pros are the ones generating a lot of revenue. The loss of these players (and the revenue they would generate) might turn out to be more costly than the cost of giving student-athletes some compensation. For example, a college bowl game can bring in up to 13 million dollars to a university. This would easily be able to compensate all the athletes in the school. Instead, by not paying their athletes, a school may lose players to the pros that would have greatly increased the school's chances of winning the championship or getting to a major bowl game. This actually happened in basketball recently. Duke University, known for its basketball superiority, had three players leave early for the NBA. Duke still made the tournament but failed to make it to the final rounds. The fact that the players wanted or needed the money cost the university a championship, and that probably cost Duke a lot more than modestly compensating their athletes.

The fact that student athletes are leaving early also causes colleges to fail in their primary objective, which is to educate all their students. Kevin White states that he and his coaches try to "institute the value of education in their players." He also recognized that universities should do all they can to keep their students in college and working towards a degree. If the athletes did not have to worry so much about money, they would be more apt to wait for the professional contract and get their college diploma.

This recent trend of players leaving early has led to yet another problem for the universities. School alumni and boosters understand the problem and obviously do not want their team to lose its best players. They find ways to pay the athletes under the table: they fix up the athlete's family with a nice house or car, things to give the family a little relief. However, if anyone ever finds out, this is also a violation and the players and universities will be put on probation or even suspended. This problem, if anything, should show the universities that alumni and boosters would be willing to give money to the school specifically to pay the athletes. The schools would not even have to come up with all the money.

Another argument given by the opponents of paying student athletes is that by paying them, schools widen the gap between athletes and normal students and put them on a pedestal (Bruinius 1). However, it actually works in reverse. The athletes right now have very little money to do the little things that students do, like go to a movie on Friday night, or out for pizza (Bruinius 1). This isolates them more than paying them would. Michigan attorney Michael Buckner states, "If there were some sort of properly structured stipend system, or a way to pay players in order to cover normal student activities, that might benefit student athletes and make them more a part of the student experience" (qtd. in Bruinius 1).

Despite all the problems, the universities will usually base their entire argument on the simple fact that they are compensating them. They are giving them a free education and that should be compensation enough (Murphy and Pace 170). The problem here is that the university is making money off of the athletes so they really are not giving the athletes anything. Further, the athletes are restricted from using their talents to make money. This might be done by giving lessons, or playing in an off-season tournament with a cash prize. Steve Murphy and Jonathan Pace point out that this is not fair because a particularly gifted English major may be given a full academic scholarship, but he/she will not be restricted from marketing and selling his/her book (170). The same goes for a music major who might write a song. The number of actual college students that actually write a book or song may be very small but the English major may want to publish a short story or enter a contest with a cash prize. The music major may want to give lessons. He/she could do this even if they were paid. The reason behind this anomaly is that the university can not make money off of the English major's talents but it can off of the athlete. They want all the athlete's talent to go into the university.

Another fault of this assumption that scholarship is enough compensation is that it does not work for walk-on athletes who do not have scholarships. Since there is no scholarship, they receive no compensation at all for putting in the same time as the full scholarship athletes (Murphy and Pace 170). Granted the walk-ons are not as valuable as the scholarship athletes, but perhaps by allowing athletes to have endorsements, it would allow the best ones to make more money than the walk-ons (Murphy and Pace 174). Universities are lying when they say scholarships are compensation for the time athletes put in. Athletic scholarships are ways to obtain and retain the best athletes, but they do not compensate.

There are several different things that universities could do to attempt to solve this problem, but I think the method of working with the professional leagues and letting athletes have endorsements proposed by Murphy and Pace would be the best way to serve the needs of both the university and the athletes. Their plan would not put any more financial burden on the universities but would offer some relief for the athletes. Murphy and Pace explain that college sports serve as a sort of minor league for professional sports (172). They go further into this by suggesting that the professional leagues work with colleges to encourage student-athletes to stay in school (173). They could do this by initiating a salary cap on all rookies entering the league. If an athlete had stayed in college and completed his/her degree, the cap would be higher and he/she could make more money. If the athlete left school early, the cap would be lowered and they could only receive the league's minimum salary (173). In other words, an athlete would have an incentive to get his/her degree. As Murphy and Pace state, "This system benefits all three parties because the colleges get to keep their revenue producing players, the professional leagues do not have the problem of paying excessive salaries for rookies, and the athletes get their college degree" (173).

Murphy and Pace continue with their plan by stating that the athletes should not be directly paid from the college because then the colleges that could pay athletes the most would get the best players, causing an imbalance in college sports. What they do suggest is for the NCAA to allow the players to receive endorsements (174). As the system currently works, all the endorsement money goes to the coaches and universities. This would allow for the best players (the ones who most likely generate the most money for the university) to make the most money, instead of all the players receiving the same (174).

While the endorsements would help the best players receive some compensation, the other players may not receive any endorsements. This is why student-athletes should be allowed to receive pay for off-season play. As stated above, athletes cannot use their talents to make money. Letting students make money in the off-season would allow athletes to give lessons as well as play for different paying organizations in the off-season. Another way to assist the less-popular athletes would be to share tournament and bowl game awards with the athletes (176). This would not necessarily need to go to the athlete in cash payments but they could use it to benefit the athlete or his family in other ways. For example, in the 1992 Final Four tournament two members of the Cincinnati basketball team did not even have a single-family member at the game because they could not afford travel or tickets (Murphy and Pace 171). This type of situation could be avoided by using some of the huge amount of money that the university receives for making it to these championship games. Murphy and Pace's plan covers all aspects but would be a huge step for universities to take, and it would also be very hard to institute.

While Murphy and Pace's plan is very sound and complete, there is a more attainable and practical possibility for a compromise mentioned by Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White. He states that while there are many athletes who do not have enough money to live on, there are some that do. He does not think that colleges should waste money to pay athletes that do not need the money. His plan would be to use something the NCAA has called the needy student fund. It can be used for students that cannot support themselves. The problem is that currently the fund is very small. He thinks that the NCAA should expand this fund so that colleges can give needy student-athletes some kind of stipend. He agreed that athletes do not have time to work, but he stated, "The money should only go to the athletes that would actually get a job if they had time." He does not believe that the athletes should be paid because they deserve it; he says it should be a need-based process.

White does agree with Murphy and Pace that the professional leagues should work with colleges. However, he states that thus far, the professional leagues have not been cooperative with universities. He also does not see this changing in the future. The reason he gives for this is the fact that college and professional sports are competitors. They are competing for the same television market and the same viewers, so they do not want to give any assistance to their competitors.

When asked about the corruption and if compensating all athletes would put a stop to it, White was skeptical. He said that it is possible that if the athletes were paid they might not have as many offers from gamblers or boosters. However, he believes that even if the athletes were paid they would still have a hard time turning down a large amount of easy money. White stated that if there was evidence to support that paying athletes would get rid of the violations he would be in support of it.

It is obvious that the colleges can make loads of cash off of their athletes. Some schools rely on athletics for a big percentage of their revenue. The athletes are being exploited because they receive basically nothing compared to what the universities are making. Universities do not stand to lose anything by adopting either of these proposed solutions. They can only gain and help their student athletes become more successful in the process. If colleges choose to ignore the situation as they have been doing, the problems that are just now beginning to occur will only increase. Compensation of student athletes is necessary for colleges to be fair to all of their students, and I believe is necessary for college sports, as we now know them, to continue.

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