The Multifaceted Debate of Whether We Should Pay College Athletes

Brendan Duggan
Dedicated to the success of college athletes, the National Collegiate Athletic Association currently awards over $2.7 billion in athletic scholarships per year.

It is one of the most debated questions in sports. The NCAA makes an estimated one billion dollars annually. But for the 480,000 student-athletes in this country, not one penny of salary was earned. With coaches making upwards of seven million per year, the argument surfaces, along with many more unsolved details: Should we pay college athletes? How would money affect the college athletics environment? What about DII and DIII?

Powerhouse basketball schools like the University of Kansas have their basketball players living in $11 million dorms, which comes with a basketball court, barber shop, home theater and dining room at their disposal. These players are living luxuriously, but statistics show that only one percent of college football and basketball players go on to play professionally. To break down the complex debate, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of paying NCAA athletes.

Pros

  • Money talk

The NCAA reported their 2012 revenue at $872 million, and as such schools like the University of Alabama, the University of Texas at Austin and Florida State University can afford pay their coaches millions each year. But people don’t attend these sporting events to watch the coaches coach — they go to watch the players play. That is not to downgrade the importance of the coaching role in sports, but the fans are there to watch the players compete in the game they love, and they should be compensated as the people who put butts in the seats. The NCAA could afford to pay their athletes, who truly bring in an extensive amount of money every week.

  • More degrees?

If college athletes were paid, it is safe to say that many elite athletes would stay in school longer. A common criticism about college sports is that players sometimes end their education prematurely in order to pursue their careers at the professional level. Athletes that do not graduate with a degree often find themselves stuck if they get injured or don’t make it on to a professional team. A popular trend known as “one and done” refers to college basketball players declaring for the NBA draft after just one year of playing in college. Though athletes who stay in school risk injury, many young, elite athletes are driven by the large paychecks, especially if their families back home need it. One must consider the perspective of the athlete, who has worked his or her whole life for the opportunity to go pro. However, if athletes were to be paid while competing at the collegiate level, they would be able to take in money, stay in school longer and earn a degree in their desired field.

  • Future pros?

Even though there is only enough space for approximately one percent of athletes to make it to the pros, are we really watching amateurs? College athletes are spectacular. They put their bodies on the line at every game, especially for contact sports like football, and risk suffering significant injuries to both their physical bodies and minds.

Cons

  • For the love of the game

One of the most common arguments against paying collegiate athletes is that these players should play for the love of the game, and not for the money. But there is no evidence players wouldn’t play as hard if they were paid, just as contracts don’t adversely affect one’s performance at work. If you are going to make the argument for players, then I ask, should coaches coach for the love of the game too?

  • Full-ride

Many athletes playing at the Division I level are on athletic or academic scholarship at their school, which means they have to pay less or, in some cases, not at all. Some people see this as a free education and for top schools like Northwestern University and Stanford University these athletes are receiving an elite education for little to no money. Some people draw the line there, arguing that athletes do not need to be paid on top of the scholarships many of them receive — that it would take away from the purity of the game. However, these students are generating revenue for their schools, and whether they deserve any of that money is the root of this lengthy debate.

  • Is it all too much?

Is paying college athletes just too much work to figure out? To start, not all Division I schools bring in as much money as the powerhouse schools do. The powerhouse schools like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ohio State University and Florida State bring in hundreds of millions each year, and almost all of it can be credited to football and basketball. So if a football player from Florida was paid, would a softball player at Oklahoma State be paid too? Many difficult questions would arise in trying to figure out a fair way to pay the athletes, and maybe we’re just not ready for that yet.

In my mind, Division I players should be paid according to how much revenue they bring in. However, compensating DII and DIII players is much less realistic. At NYU for example, our sports teams don’t bring in millions of dollars from fans buying tickets and merchandise. We don’t have a 101,000 capacity football stadium like Alabama does, our games are hard to get to and are usually free of charge to attend, so there is no source of revenue to be had. However, at schools like Alabama, where DI athletes commit their college years to practice, games, lifting, homework, film sessions and travelling, they should be rewarded with a percentage of the hundreds of millions they are bringing in for their schools and the NCAA.

Email Brendan Duggan at [email protected]

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