College sports bring in big dollars every year on the major college level. These programs bring $30 and sometimes $40 million dollars per year to the universities and colleges and the players get nothing. These are the same players who are breaking their backs for the university day in and day out and can’t get a share of that money and, to me, that does not seem fair. I know what you may be thinking: that these student athletes are getting a free education or have gotten a scholarship to play ball at that university. To me, that’s the least they could be doing.
This list of 10 reasons to pay college athletes is by no means comprehensive, but it does provide a quick overview of some of the top arguments given for paying college athletes.
1. Provides income to students who do not have time to work part-time jobs
Despite the NCAA mandating that teams limit the amount of time college athletes participate in athletics to 20 hours per week, student athletes report that they often spend much more. On average, athletes spend 28 hours per week, with many reporting much higher. At that rate, students are working the equivalent of at least a part-time job; often closer to a full-time job. This limits their ability to earn income through normal means (e.g., working a campus job). Additionally, while athletes are compensated (tuition waivers and, in some cases, additional stipends to cover standard college expenses), they do not receive money to pay for common incidentals (e.g., food, recreation, clothes, etc.)
2. Limit corruption / rule violations and rules-related time commitments
Many violations relate to impermissible benefits being provided to players (see here for some of the more humorous). Not only do schools and the NCAA spend an enormous amount of time policing rule violations, the strictness of the rules forces players to be constantly vigilant with their actions lest they commit a minor offense. Even any cases where the offenses are deemed major (e.g., selling autographs), it seems unfair to penalize players so harshly when the action does not seem to harm anyone. Moreover, athletic departments would be able to redirect time spent associated with compensation-based rules violations to activities that further athletes’ well-being (e.g., academic support); the NCAA could also redirect its efforts to focus on more impactful violations.
3. The Olympics have a pre-established system allowing amateurs to receive money from endorsements and memorabilia (e.g., jerseys/T-shirts)
The Olympics have long—since 1971—disassociated compensation from amateurism, though the United States did not allow their athletes to receive compensation until 1978. Olympic athletes are allowed to earn income through workforce employment, as well as endorsements from sponsors and/or grants and stipends from corporations or other groups. Adopting the Olympian model would allow schools to avoid having to compensate all athletes—meaning no Title IX concerns—and allow athletes to receive compensation through corporate endorsements.
4. Offset, to a small degree, the risk athletes take in regards to short- and long-term damage to their bodies playing sports
The NCAA now requires (since 2005) schools to certify that athletes have a specific minimum level of insurance that covers injuries while they are participating in athletic events. Despite that, allowing players to receive additional money while in college would provide them the opportunity to save in case of a permanent injury or lingering effects from athletic participation.
5. NCAA is multi-billion dollar revenue generator and players deserve to receive more direct forms of compensation in addition to tuition waivers
College athletics—specifically football and men’s basketball—are major revenue generators for both universities and the NCAA. The NCAA, for example, continues to sign significant television contracts; conferences, too, are establishing their own media outlets and signing away exclusive television rights. Athletes, though, see no direct benefit from these massive deals, despite being, in a sense, the “product” that is being sold. Suggestions, such as incorporating athlete compensation packages as part of television contracts, could fund some compensation.
6. Increase college graduation rate
Providing college athletes money would limit their dependence on entering professional leagues to earn income to support themselves or, in some cases, their family. Javedon Clowney, for example, was a star defensive end for the South Carolina Gamecocks and claims he would have stayed in school if the university had been allowed to provide him money to provide for his family.
7. Many athletes are required to spend much of their off-season (including summers) participating in athletics related activities e.g., gym hours)
As recently as 2010, the NCAA found that many athletes report devoting more time to their sport during the offseason as they do during the season. This may occur because players have fewer academic commitments (e.g., fewer classes during summer) or less need to conserve injury or lessen risk of injury when there are no games. This eliminates the common sentiment that athletes are able to focus more once their season is complete. Moreover, often teams will have volunteer activities that athletes may perceive as being mandatory.
8. Divert money away from coaches and to the players
No reasonable person would argue that coaches do not contribute to the success (or lack thereof) of college athletes—both on and off the field. However, coaching salaries have dramatically risen the past decade, especially assistant coaches at Power 5 schools, and the highest are well over $2,000,000. Rather than continuing to pay coaches ever increasing salaries, athletic departments could divert some of the money to the athletes who are actually playing the game.
9. Compensate players (and programs) earning revenue
Nothing is quite as American as meritocracy—except for maybe college athletics. In fact, it seems the combination of the two would be the ideal solution. In a “survival of the fittest style”, paying athletes would be rewards for not only performance but also for earning revenue for their company (i.e., their university). Taken to the extreme, this idea could push out freeloading college sports but if concerns over athletic department profits are preventing the payment of college athletes, then a Darwinian approach to college sports could the answer.
10. Financial incentives may encourage wider participation
Increasing participation is, to this author, one of the weaker pros often listed. For the average athlete, it is unlikely that the lack of financial incentives is preventing that player from deciding to participate in college athletics. However, there is a small chance that some players must decline because cannot afford common necessities (food, clothing, etc.) that are often outside the benefits received through their scholarship.
Student athletes are stuck between two worlds. While the NCAA constantly affirms its commitment to its root values, it is simultaneously brokering deals with national networks to show live football games to millions of people. Too many college athletes put their heart and soul into what they do and too many come out with any reward. Many people say that NCAA has an ideal model for creating cheap labor. Not only do they expect athletes to perform in the classroom that performance has to be translated to the field.