Amateur athletics at the major college level are a vast business. Millions of dollars are spent every year to maintain stadiums, facilities for training, and many other areas of athletic departments. In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) earned $1.06 billion in revenue last year, surpassing the $1 billion mark for the first time. Of that billion, the NCAA profited a whopping $105 million dollars. (Leaf) Money is flooding into these athletic departments and the athletes benefit in many ways, but do the athletes deserve to be paid to compete and play? This debate has been repeated for years, with some advocates in favor of the idea, and some against it. The idea of the student-athlete has been flipped to the athlete-student, and the NCAA regulation that 50 percent of student-athletes have to graduate is very loose, but in order to keep the façade of a student-first mentality, college athletes are not paid. Earnings are sometimes given for food, housing, and other essentials, but athletes are not technically compensated for what they do. However, college athletes should be making money in some way related to the sports that they play.
College athletes risk their bodies and physical health every time they choose to play a game or participate in training. While some injured players a lucky enough to heal through surgery and therapy, some remain permanently injured. There have been cases where player become paralyzed by hits or tackles on football fields, ending the player's career before it even gets started. (Patterson) Not only will it end their career, but it could also possibly stop their scholarship, which in retrospect is quite disturbing. Players also commonly suffer from concussions that can lead to depression, dementia, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These athletes that put their health on the line every time they step on a field deserve to be paid for the risks they take. (Piccioto)
As stated earlier, these student-athletes bring in an immense amount of money, it only makes sense that should receive a portion of the money they bring in. CBS/Turner Sports paid NCAA $11 billion dollars to show March Madness between 2011 and 2024. It is important to note that March Madness is one of the most watched sporting events in the country. With the NCAA raking in billions of dollars, it would seem obvious that the stars of the show would be properly compensated. (Patterson) Big brands have been profiting off of college athletes for years. They have them wear brands on the field without paying them to promote their brands. As a brand like “Nike” makes millions off of college athletes, the students walk away with nothing. (Piccioto)
Some advocates against paying athletes claim that it would just be too difficult to implement a payroll system, they have many questions about how a system that pays athletes would even work. Their main inquiries are pertaining to who would get paid and who wouldn't, how often they should receive pay and the presence of a salary cap. (Piccioto) However, the ‘difficulty' to implement is no excuse, the athletes who bring in the most money should be the players being paid, specifically football and men basketball players. These sports are the ones in which fans are most likely to spend their money to spectate, they are extremely televised, and the fact of the matter is, they bring in the big bucks. (Piccioto) Although athletes that play sports like tennis, soccer, and baseball won't get paid it's fair because they don't bring in as much money. As Adam Bettcher says, “It's capitalism, that's how it works in America.” (Wilbon)
Some advocates argue that the players are not professionals and therefore should not be paid. This view in some ways makes sense but it doesn't hold up when one considers how much the coaches of these teams are making. According to a Time article written by Sean Gregory, the head coach of Alabama Crimson Tide Football team made whopping $11 million dollars this past season. The team's defensive and offensive coordinators were each paid over $1 million. If college players aren't professionals and shouldn't be paid, then why is it acceptable for the coaches of these teams to receive millions while their players receive nothing? (Brooks) While coaches may have a big effect on a team, it is up to the athletes to get it done. Coaches receive bonuses for breaking records, reaching the offseason, and winning the big games; the athletes receive none of it. Not to say that student-athletes should receive huge salaries like their coaches, but they should be paid a reasonable amount relative to how much the program makes.
One point I often find missing in this debate is the fact that many athletes are financially irresponsible because they aren't given the chance to manage an income. According to the ESPN documentary Broke, sixty percent of NBA players are out of money after five years of being retired. Bad investments, unethical financial advisors, and poor budgeting are some of the main reasons for this. If these athletes were given money in college, they may have a better awareness of financial literacy before being submersed into their careers. This would result in less athletes being burned out once they retire. (Patterson)
Another reason college athletes should be paid to play is because they are not allowed to make money through self-promotion or brand deals. The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not allow athletes to make money by marketing themselves. The policy states that players are forbidden from allowing “the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.” The players don't receive any portion of the money earned from selling their jerseys or signed products. If a player can receive $750 to $1000 for their jersey what's wrong with that? Music students in college are allowed to go and perform for money and student-journalists can sell freelance stories to create their own income, there's no harm in allowing college athletes to do the same, yet it is prohibited. If student-athletes can't make their own money by marketing themselves, that just gives them more reason to be paid. (Wilbon)
In 2011, the NCAA did a survey and many students were spending an average of 30 hours a week in practice, sometimes 40. When you combine that with the time spent in team meetings, games, classes, and mandatory study hall sessions, it's nearly impossible for these athletes to fill a part-time job position to earn some spending money. (Brooks) Their schedule also includes a full-time college schedule that they must maintain if they want to stay in the school and continue playing college sports. If a student has 10 hours of class each week and puts in the recommended four hours of study for each hour of class, then athletes spend 50 hours each week studying and attending mandatory classes and study halls. This means that college athletes have to work 90 hours per week just to remain in school on their scholarship. This is the equivalent to working two full-time jobs with a side job on the weekends. For athletes to be dedicating so much time to their coursework while simultaneously putting in work on the field, they should be compensated properly. (Brooks)
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