Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is the governing body for intercollegiate sports. Over the years they have effectively evolved into a billion-dollar corporation. They profit tremendously off the hard work and talent of young student athletes. Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA makes around $2 million dollars per year. While the organization he leads is a business that more or less doesn’t pay its employees. Athletics for student athletes is pretty much a full time job. Would you work a full time job for free?


Throughout the history of college athletics, student athletes have been unpaid. Today there is A growing debate on whether this should change. Colleges compensate their players in forms of Financial aid and scholarships, but not every player receives these benefits, and even so is it enough? The average scholarship shortfall (out-of-pocket expenses) for each “full” scholarship, was approximately $3222 per player during the 2010-2011 school year. The room and board provisions in a full scholarship leave 85% of players living on campus and 86% of players living off campus living below the federal poverty line. These are statistics for players who are on full scholarship, not including part-scholarships or walk on players.

Not everybody watches basketball, but almost everybody watches March Madness. It’s hard to not get caught up in the hype. You and your friends construct and compare brackets, and you hope for your team to make it as a far as possible. The NCAA has effectively created the tournament into a huge brand, and business is profitable. It is a giant business for the NCAA, corporate sponsors, and broadcasters. This past March Madness, CBS and Turner Broadcasting made more than $1 billion dollars off of the tournament, charging $700,000 dollars for a 30 second advertising spot during the final four. When a team advances deep into the tournament the NCAA pays millions of dollars in payouts to their athletic conferences and team’s coaches.


It is unfair and unmoral that players do not receive any of that money. Even as they risk career and life changing injuries every time they step out onto the rink, field, court, etc. There are roughly 13,000 injuries annually in college athletics throughout the nation. Some of these injuries may only affect a student for a day or two. Some could change their entire lives. Eric Legrand went to Colonia High School in New Jersey where he played football. He was good enough to get the opportunity to play at Rutgers University where he eventually worked his way up to being a crucial member of the team’s defense at defensive tackle. In the sixth game of his junior season he suffered a severe spinal cord injury. Today, Eric Legrand is still in a wheel chair paralyzed from the neck down. Do you think the NCAA payed for his treatments and ongoing continuous rehabilitation? They didn’t. Do you think they could afford to, and should have? They could and should have.


(Eric Legrand participating in a coin toss)


The NCAA bans players from being compensated for their jersey sales. The defense to this is that the jerseys are sold without the players’ names on them. But a couple years ago when you went to buy a Texas A&M jersey with the number 2 on it, you knew you were buying a Johnny Manziel jersey. Some of schools even have links to the player’s profile for the jersey. But their name isn’t on the back of it, so it couldn’t be them right? In some cases, schools will put a student athlete posing next to a corporate sponsor’s logo on advertisements, posters, and football schedule cards. But according to the school’s the athlete is not endorsing the sponsor. The NCAA and colleges exploit the players for profit. Another prime example of this is the “Fab Five” of Michigan. They were the University of Michigan’s basketball team 1991 recruits who would go on to win the 1992 and 1993 division one championships. They were huge marketing targets, after their freshman season the University of Michigan’s merchandise sales went from 1.5 million per year to 10 million per year. Nike even created a shoe named after the group and the players found themselves making lots of people rich, without them or their families receiving a dime. Historically players who try to rebel against the NCAA for this unfair treatment get shutdown and punished swiftly by an iron fist.


There has been a lot of scandals over the years of players being payed to play under the table by universities and their boosters. While some of this in the sense of players being given expensive cars and prostitutes is certainly unacceptable. The majority of these incidents is the coach’s recognizing the players are being treated unfairly, and trying to help with food money, and financial assistance to the player’s family. When the NCAA gets wind of this the punishments to the University are severe. Reggie Bush was once a Heisman winning running back at the University of Southern California. He came from a family that lived in debt, and when a marketing agency called and offered to pay off his parent’s house and give them financial assistance, he did what anyone else would have done. When the NCAA found out it harshly punished USC removing their national championship title, scholarships, and Bush was forced to return his Heisman trophy, making 2005 the only year with “officially” no Heisman winner.


Some of the oppositions arguments against players getting paid is that organizing a system of who would get paid and how much is impossible. The need to pay player’s will lead to a decline in pay of coaches, and there will be an increasing culture of entitlement among the players. The structuring of how the payments will be handled doesn’t have to be that complicated. Rules should be established at the conference level, each of the ten football conferences could set up their own level of parity then compete for talent. Good coaching at the collegiate competitive level is a scarce resource in a free market. The coaches aren’t in danger of losing money, and school’s won’t be able to void contracts that are already in place. As far as an increasing culture of entitlement, the players deserve to be paid. They’ve worked hard and their skill earns other’s money. Isn’t the real entitlement problem that there is basically a hundred percent tax on the earnings of young students that goes to pay for the salaries of the middle and upper class middle aged men. The argument that student athletes are students and not employees is a ludicrous one, that is completely false.


In conclusion, I believe that student athletes should be compensated for their hard work and talent that earns so many people money, besides themselves. The concerns over how such a thing could be implemented are understandable, but should not stay in the way of progress. It is morally wrong how the NCAA and colleges exploit players for money. Many of these players live in poverty while risking injury in the full time job of college athletics without compensation. Would you work a full time job for free?




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