Paying College Athletes

*This is a research paper done for my English class, debating the pros and cons of giving college athletes compensation for their hard work from a neutral perspective.

There are more than 460,000 NCAA student-athletes in the United States, and their games are watched and loved by millions.  However, while the NCAA and universities can make revenue off of these players, the players themselves receive no compensation for their work.  Recently, there have been instances of athletes attempting to be treated as employees of their schools.  Examples of this include the Northwestern football team’s attempt to unionize, and athletes such as former college basketball player Ed O’Bannon suing after models of themselves were used in video games without permission.  While some believe college athletes should be paid due to how much the NCAA and universities make from them, and all the time they put into their sport, many others oppose the idea because these athletes already receive money through scholarships, paying all athletes would cost a ton of money, and that participating in college athletics is a privilege.
Since the NCAA and universities make tons of money through marketing of sports events, it seems only fair that the athletes should get a portion of what they earn.  The market for college sports is extremely large, as “college athletic revenues are $10.5 billion a year, more than the NFL generates,” (“USA Industry”).  Since so much money is generated through college sports, it seems only fair that athletes should be given compensation for their efforts.  After all, they are of paramount importance to the industry since while certain officials might be expendable, college sports cannot be played without the athletes.  However, despite that the athletes are valuable commodities, they are not rewarded for the money they bring in.  Much of this money seems to be given to coaches as well, seeing as from 2011 to 2012, the average salary of a bowl eligible college football coach grew 35% to a whopping $1.64 million, over a 70% increase from 2006 (Gorwitz).  Obviously winning and profiting off their athletic programs mean a lot to these schools who are continuously dishing out more and more money to get the best coaches possible for their teams.  However, regardless of how good a coach can be, he or she still is not the one actually playing in the game.  While coaches are rewarded immensely for success, the players that are actually responsible for the on-field accomplishments are not compensated.  This is especially unfair considering that “if college sports shared their revenues the way pro sports do, the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000,” (Frommer).  The value players from the highest revenue sports have is obviously substantial, even going into six-figures.  While it may be unreasonable for them to be paid those large amounts, it stands that they probably deserve more than zero figures, and should be allowed to make money off things such as autographs.  College athletes are of great value to their universities, and deserve to be compensated for all the revenue they provide.
Additionally, the extensive amount of time athletes put into their sports is similar to the amount of time an average American worker spends working per week, essentially making them employees of their university, and the NCAA. Despite the training, practicing, and traveling some athletes put in, which can amount to 50-hour workweeks while still attending classes, all they have to show for their actions is the $1.7 million dollar salary of NCAA president Mark Emmert (Gorwitz).  What many people forget is that these student-athletes are still students above all else, and still have to pass their classes in order to remain eligible.  However, it can be a daunting task to put so much time into sports, in some cases the equivalent of a full time job, and paying college athletes would certainly make it easier for them to spend so much time playing the sports they enjoy.  Unfortunately, the NCAA and universities have neglected this, and while the salaries are rising for other positions, athletes are not getting credit for their hard work.  Also, as Dave Zirin writes, “the pressures for the so-called student-athletes to travel more and play their sport year-round have increased.  Arguing that these athletes are students instead of unpaid employees of the university who also go to class becomes increasingly dubious,” (Zirin).  Players are now required to be on the road for sometimes weeks at a time during their school season, and during these times it is still mandatory for them to keep up with schoolwork.  Additionally, they have to spend numerous hours in the offseason still training and conditioning themselves.  Since this additional time on top of simply playing games, it becomes more reasonable to say that athletes are essentially working for their university, which would require them to be paid similar to employees.  Due to the large amounts of time college athletes spend with their sports, they deserve to be treated as university employees and be paid for their services.
Finally, college athletics harm the other aspects of a student-athlete’s life- keeping them out of class, and not giving them the time to hold a job and earn money for themselves.  Recalling his time spent as a professional athlete, Tyson Hartnett remarks, “we were on the road all the time, even gone for two weeks straight at one point…the job wasn’t going to pay you just because you were playing basketball on a road trip,” (Hartnett).  It should be obvious that student-athletes have to find a way to earn money.  However, another adverse effect of the long road trips which have become necessary for athletes to partake in is that it forces them to be away from their jobs on or near campus, effectively removing their source of income.  This can be financially devastating, especially for athletes in sports that require longer amounts of time on the road, as evidenced by former Connecticut basketball player Shabazz Napier, who stated that he sometimes went to bed starving.  Considering these students are unable to earn money for parts of the year, it seems only fair for them to receive payment at least during their season.  The argument that playing college sports leaves students poor is also backed up by former UCLA star and NBA Hall-of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has claimed that he was always too broke to do anything but study, practice, and play despite all his time practicing and playing (Ozemebhoya-Eromosele).  Students now have a limited social life as a consequence of spending so much time with their sports, and in return are unable to participate in many activities they should be able to.  The inability of student-athletes to make money affects all different areas of their lives, as now they are forced to continue spending more time with their teams, as they cannot afford to do much else.  Another huge issue is that students are forced to pay their own medical bills since the NCAA only pays for medical expenses for players if they exceed $90,000, and schools are not required to help players with their medical costs (Sinha).  This can be devastating to athletes, because college athletes simply are unable to pay off some of their medical costs, as it is not uncommon for players to sustain serious injuries.  It is outrageous to ask college age students to pay large sums for injuries that occur while they are making money for their universities.  Due to how participating in college athletics inhibits athletes’ abilities to earn money to have fun and pay off medical expenses, college athletes deserve to be paid.
However, the scholarships students receive to participate in collegiate athletics already has a high enough value, meaning athletes are in a way getting paid and should not receive more money.  Scholarships essentially are paying students now as “colleges are already compensating their student-athletes with tuition, room, board, coaching, nutritional support and physical trainers that can exceed $100,000 per year in value (Karaim).  While the majority of college students have to pay the majority of their college tuition themselves, many of these athletes are given everything for free, which in a way means that they are receiving payment from their universities just by being able to go to the school for free or at least a reduced tuition.  These student-athletes are gaining a substantial economic advantage over their peers through their athletic prowess, which will aid them not only during college but also potentially in their futures.  It can also be argued that if students are short on money while on campus they can still use any money that had saved up to use for tuition if they had not received an athletic scholarship, or they could still take out loans like many other students if they come from a lower socioeconomic class.  Anthony Panciocco argues being given financial assistance to play sports is a fair trade, believing that the system of students making money and playing a sport they love for the university, and getting paid in return with an education is ideal and benefits all parties involved (Panciocco).  If the situation is viewed this way, it seems almost greedy for athletes to insist on being paid, since their efforts are already rewarded through scholarships with the equivalent of, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They have the ability to essentially pay their way through school just by partaking in an activity that they find joy in, which seems to provide a substantial economic benefit to these students without the need to receive additional payment.  Because of the high value of athletic scholarships, paying college athletes additional money is unnecessary.
Additionally, if some athletes are paid, all athletes have to be paid, and the money required to do this would be too great for most universities.  A USA Today study has shown that “just 23 of 228 athletic departments were able to cover their own expenses last year. This means that 205 athletic departments had to receive subsidies to cover their operating costs,” (Panciocco).  The only schools that actually profited when their own expenses are factored in are the big name universities that all the top recruits go to, and are always nationally ranked – schools like Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas.  However, these schools and their millions of fans are unlike other universities.  While their athletic programs are run like big businesses and actually make enough money that they could probably afford to pay most of their athletes, they reflect only the slim minority, and most colleges would find it extremely difficult to pay athletes.  The issue becomes even harder for the average school to deal with considering that due to Title IX either all athletes must be paid or none at all, the problem arises of how we deal with athletes in smaller sports that do not generate significant revenue to their schools, such as field hockey and soccer players, even though they may work just as hard as players of other sports (Atanda Jr.).  The issue lies in the large numbers of different sports student-athletes participate in, and that while millions of people watch football and basketball games, outside of those, not many people care about other NCAA sports.  Yet the athletes of other sports still spend crazy amounts of time training, and conditioning, and practicing, and travelling.  If we reward the football players, these athletes must also be rewarded, and the financial ramifications of that on universities, especially smaller ones, would be too much.  In fact, economics professor Andrew Zimbalist states, “the median Division I athletic program loses $11 million a year on an operating basis,” (Karaim).  It seems preposterous for schools already so deep in the red to have to shell out millions to compensate every athlete that attends the university.  Instead, universities would most likely do away with many of their athletic programs, which makes us question whether we would rather pay the few big-sport athletes and eliminate the smaller sports, or just not pay anyone, and for student-athletes of smaller sports the answer is that they would rather being playing with a scholarship than not playing with no scholarship.  Since paying all student-athletes would be financially difficult for most universities, college athletes should not be paid.
Student-athletes have the privilege to participate in an activity they enjoy, and are allowed to quit if they so choose, so universities should not be forced to pay them.  Horace Mitchell argues that athletics is simply a means to getting free education when he writes, “Students are not professional athletes who are paid salaries and incentives for a career in sports. They are students receiving access to a college education through their participation in sports, for which they earn scholarships to pay tuition, fees, room and board, and other allowable expenses,” (Mitchell).  Since the overwhelming majority of college athletes do not become professionals in their sport, it is fair to say consider college athletics as just a means to an end, and using athletics in order to obtain an education should be enough of a reward itself.  Through college sports, student-athletes are able to get a degree and hopefully earn themselves a good future, which should be far enough compensation.  And if for whatever reason they decide they do not want to continue playing their sport, they are allowed to remove themselves from their team.  College athletes also know what their signing up for, agreeing to not be paid in exchange for tuition, room and board, books, and following the rules of the NCAA (Jackson).  Student-athletes are basically signing an agreement when they accept an athletic scholarship, so they should know what they are signing up for.  Above all else should be a passion for their sport and an understanding of how it can be used to help them receive an education.  Since college sports is all about students playing sports they enjoy in order to receive an education, college athletes should not receive payment.
            So while college athletes make significant money for their schools and the NCAA, work long hours and sometimes do not have time to hold another job, they are still getting expensive scholarships for doing what they enjoy, and most schools would not be able to afford paying all athletes.  In the end, while both sides have strong arguments, it seems over time athletes will end up receiving additional income, probably in the form of a stipend just to give them a little extra spending money.  Hopefully, sooner rather than later schools and athletes will be able to agree upon this idea and shift the focus back onto performing well in both school and athletics and off of money.  More than a stipend would probably be unreasonable, but in this system, those 460,000 student-athletes should be happy knowing they are earning money for their efforts.
Works Cited
Atanda Jr., Alfred, M.D. “Should We Pay College Athletes?.” n.p. 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Frommer, Frederic J. “Top College Athletes Worth 6 Figures: Report.” Huffington Post. 12 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2015
Gorwitz, Zach. “Money Madness: Why And How NCAA Athletes Should Be Paid.” Duke Political Review. 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Hartnett, Tyson. “Why College Athletes Should be Paid.” Huffington Post.  23 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Jackson, Scoop. “The Myth Of Parity.” ESPN. 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Karaim, Reed. “Paying College Athletes.” CQ Researcher 24.25 (2014): 577-600. CQ Electronic Library. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Mitchell, Horace. “Students Are Not Professional Athletes.” U.S. News. 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Ozemebhoya-Eromsele, Diana. “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: College Athletes Should Be Paid.” The Root. 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015
Panciocco, Anthony. “Why We Can’t Pay College Athletes.” The Maine Campus. 27 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
Sinha, Smriti. “The NCAA’s Shameful Failure To Insure It’s Athletes.” Vice Sports. 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2015
“USA Industry: Players: 0; Colleges: $10,000,000,000.” Economist Intelligence Unit: Country ViewsWire 16 Aug. 2014. General OneFile. Web. 28 Feb. 2015

Zirin, Dave. “Time For The NCAA To Pay.” The Progressive June 2014: 42. General OneFile. Web. 28 Feb. 2015

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