Should NCAA Athletes Be Paid?
It seems as though every year we here of another school, coach, or athlete is being sanctioned by the NCAA for an offense involving impermissible benefits. While I don’t think many people want to see college sports become full-blown minor leagues, it’s fair to ask whether the athletes should be paid something. NCAA officials are currently debating whether scholarships should be increased to include more of the incidental costs of attending college- things like campus parking fees, school supplies, and extra books (required textbooks are covered; books “recommended” by professors are not). To me, this is a no-brainer and a good start. However, I don’t think it goes far enough. Remember, for large chunks of the year these athletes can’t hold down a part-time job like most college students- in that sense, their sport is their job, and as a job I would argue that it should provide some degree of discretionary income for them.
Among the arguments against paying college athletes is that the ones on scholarship are already getting a free college education, something worth several thousand dollars. It’s a valid point, and one of the main reasons I don’t think large payments to athletes would be appropriate. South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier has suggested payments of $300 per game; I think that’s too much. (I also dislike the idea of paying per game, which I’ll explain later). My feeling overall about the “they’re-already-getting-a-scholarship” argument is that part of college should be going out, having fun, making friends, and meeting people. That’s tough to do if you don’t have a way to earn any spending money, or family members who can provide you with it.
Another reasonable argument is that young people are not always responsible with money, particularly large amounts of it. My response to this would be for athletes receiving money to be required, as freshmen, to take and pass a financial literacy class in his or her first semester. Obviously this won’t ensure that all students are responsible with their money, but they’ll all have knowledge of how to open a savings account, balance a checkbook, apply for a credit card and use it responsibly, etc.
In a bygone era, college athletes played sports and competed for the love of the game and the glory of the university. While I certainly hope that young people involved in collegiate athletics love their sports and are proud of the schools they attend, I no longer think it’s fair to ask them to compete solely for that reason. The demands on their time force student-athletes to sacrifice many aspects of the college experience, while bringing in massive amounts of money to universities.
On the other hand, one of the best arguments that I’ve heard for paying student-athletes is that it would help decrease the influence of boosters around major-college sports programs. I’m sure some of these boosters are nice people who love their local school or alma mater and truly want to help the sports programs and students. I’m equally sure that some of them are sleazeballs who get some kind of self-esteem boost by ingratiating themselves with athletes and coaches, and what better way to be buddies with an unemployed college kid than by slipping him a couple hundred bucks? These athletes know that they can’t take so much as a slice of pizza from these guys, and yet every year there are players who take things from boosters and get caught (and probably many more who don’t get caught). There will always be student-athletes who do this, but it stands to reason that a player who’s flat-broke is going to be more likely to accept money from a booster or agent and risk ineligibility than one who knows he has enough cash back at the dorm to do his laundry and take his girlfriend to the movies. If Terrelle Pryor and his teammates had had a permissible source of income, would he have traded memorabilia for tattoos, or might he have just paid for them like everyone else?
Of course, even if the NCAA were to buy into the idea of paying its athletes, there are several questions remaining. Among them, with my answers:
-Which athletes should get paid? Revenue sports only? (Since these tend to be men’s sports, would this lead to Title IX issues?) All sports? Only Division I? Only those on scholarship?
Ideally, I’d like to see all NCAA athletes receiving some form of payment. Realistically, I know this probably isn’t possible; the finances of too many small schools‘ athletic departments wouldn‘t allow it. I’d settle for all Division I athletes, or even just Division I scholarship athletes, to start. Down the road, maybe the NCAA could help finance payments at other schools. I don’t like the idea of paying only revenue-sport athletes for many reasons, a big one being that at most schools these are men’s sports and could lead to challenges under Title IX.
-How much and how often are they paid? Per game? (Remember, different sports have different numbers of games/meets/tournaments). Per week? Per season?
I think paying athletes per week of the season makes the most sense. Paying per game, when football players play between 11 and 13 games per season and hockey players play around 40, is going to result in either a huge discrepancy in what different athletes make per game, or a huge discrepancy in what they earn per season. If hockey season lasts more weeks than football season, hockey players should be paid longer, but I’d want to see the overall amount they get be similar. This also eliminates the issue of whether and how an injured athlete who misses a game would be paid.
-What happens when a player is injured/suspended for an off-field issue/academically ineligible?
As long as the injured player is not redshirted and remains part of the team, he or she would continue to receive money weekly. I would want to see a process where a redshirted athlete from a low-income family could apply to continue receiving payment, although I’d want to see it granted rarely.
Suspended or academically ineligible players would not continue to receive money during the suspension or ineligible period.
-What would happen at a school where the athletic department isn’t making or is actually losing money?
This, for me, is the most difficult question to answer. I’d hate to see a situation where budget increases for athlete stipends meant having to eliminate men’s swimming or women’s golf. Perhaps the NCAA could contribute to payments at those schools, or at least help those schools with finding new sources of revenue.
Love-of-the-game amateurism is a great ideal, but with the money being made and spent on college sports, and an increasing number of athletes from low-income families being recruited to play, I see it as an outdated model for college athletics. With the amount of money floating around in major college athletics, there has to be a way to divide the pie differently and make sure the athletes themselves get a piece.
.. and Thats the Last Word.