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Pay to Play: Should College Athletes Be Paid?

Introduction

College athletes are at a severe financial disadvantage compared to other students and therefore should be paid at least a stipend by the university. Students not involved in sports can obtain part-time employment to purchase necessary peripheral items such as toiletries, clothing, school-related incidentals, and perhaps a pizza on the weekend.

Some argue that athletes are paid under their scholarship and that is sufficient reimbursement for their services. Putting aside for the moment that athletes that participate in the more popular sports earn millions of dollars for the university and that other students reap these benefits as well, athletes are denied the same lack of restrictions to earning while they learn and as a result, should be somewhat compensated. The sum of this stipend is arguable but a reasonable amount of, for instance, $100 per month does not seem out of line.

A stipend for the athletes

The NCAA alone makes approximately $500 million every year from the men’s March basketball tournament. The bowl games that follow the regular football season supply the conferences with revenues of about $200 million each winter. Now add up ticket and concession proceeds, corporate sponsorships, and money gained from merchandise sales that without the presence of sports would not be funneled into a university annually. The athletes know that they generate many billions of dollars for their schools, yet are not allowed to earn even pocket change while at school, giving their all for ‘ole State U. Athletes are allowed only the most meager of existence under NCAA regulations. Meanwhile, they witness other students with money enough at least for an occasional date, and their coach earning a multi-million-dollar salary but know that they are the ones that make the greatest sacrifices.

Nebraska State legislators approved a stipend for football players at the University of Nebraska and legislators from Texas, Iowa, and California have considered measures that would offer athletes a very small allotment if special needs arose but as of now, no laws have been formally passed.

This welfare-based initiative would address situations such as that of Maurice Clarett, a former running back at Ohio State.

Before the 2003 national championship game, neither he nor his parents were financially able to buy him a plane ticket to attend a friend’s funeral. The university, booster club, or coaches were not allowed to pay for the trip thus he was on campus the day his boyhood friend was buried (Whiteside, 2004).

The NCAA reports that of the 1000 schools in its membership, only 40 earn a profit each year, all of which are Division I-A institutions and have either a successful football or basketball program. Though revenues continue to rise for these select schools; the remaining schools are suffering growing deficits. In most cases, schools utilize money gained from their more successful and thus profitable sports programs to fund the other sports activities at the school such as the bulk of women’s athletic programs. The vast majority of schools could not afford to pay for programs that did not pay for themselves if not for the athletes that put ‘butts in seats.’ These athletes are producing enormous revenues that not only pay for other sports programs but pump money into the general scholarship fund. Athletes should be compensated at least minimally but not just athletes that are involved in revenue-producing sports. All college athletes should receive a modest salary because all of them allocate so much of their time to their particular sport.

Even the non-profitable sports programs provide publicity to the institutions in amounts impossible to quantify.

“There are also student-athletes who have to leave school early because they do not have enough money to continue, or to pay their bills, and leaving school for a career in professional sports is an easy way of making money. The argument is that if student-athletes get paid, they will remain in school and complete their education” (Meshefejian, 2005).

Rock-star status’

Some argue that athletes are treated as privileged citizens on campus. Well, of course, they are, but many of the people that believe this to be true are part of the tens of thousands that cheer them from the stands. Their ‘rock-star status is not of the athletes’ choosing but is unavoidable. However, those that think that athletes are privileged characters are looking only at the surface outcomes of the overall picture. “College athletes are representative of a unique segment of the school’s general population. More is required of them. They expend much more effort and time than other students and are constantly challenged with balancing athletics, academics, and social responsibilities” (Carodine et al, 2001).

There unquestionably is a disparity between college athletes and other students and it does not favor the athlete. For example, university students who are involved in extracurricular activities other than athletics, musicians, for example, receive scholarships and can perform for the university’s symphony whether or not they make passing grades or are academically eligible. They can perform and earn money in a professional orchestra while enrolled in school. By comparison, if athletes do this, they are kicked out of school, lose their scholarship, and most probably end their chance of playing professionally. Ask Maurice Clarett. Moreover, a music student can major and earn a degree in the field of music and even a specific instrument such as the piano. “A football or basketball major is unheard of, much less a major in playing quarterback or strong forward. Athletes are scrutinized for getting any type of job while on scholarships for their school. Getting paid to play or work in football would be sacrilege” (Chaisson, 2001). It is patently unfair that a college athlete must meet academic and financially binding standards that other students do not.

Those that think athletes are treated differently than other students are correct. They are treated worse even though they bring in much more money and thus are more beneficial to their school than is a piano player.

A share of the profits

Some have suggested that athletes be given a share of the profits that are made as a result of their efforts. Of course, this is the way it works in the business world but athletes are considered shameful if they draw parallels between what they do and how the rest of the capitalist world operates. It’s a double standard and patently unfair. I would not suggest this approach to payment of athletes but not compensating them in the smallest of ways is a travesty of decency, simple humanity, and fairness.

References

  1. Carodine, K., Almond, K. F., & Gratto, K. K. “College Student Athlete Success both Inside and Outside of the Classroom.” Student Services for Student Athletes. New Directions for Student Services. M. F. Howard-Hamilton & S. K. Watt (Eds.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2001..
  2. Chaisson, Nathan. “Athletes Should be Paid to Play.” The Collegiate Times.
  3. Meshefejian, Krikor. “Pay to Play: Should College Athletes be Paid?” The Journal of Business Law Society. (2005). University of Illinois College of Law. Web.
  4. Whiteside, Kelly. “College Athletes Want Cut of Action.” USA Today. (2004). Web.