Should College Athletes Be Paid?

Alex LaFosta

"To pay, to not to pay?" That is the question many have been asking about student athletes. As the records for professional athlete salaries begin to soar, and as more and more reports of multimillion dollar deals being made within the NCAA every year, the question that usually arises is, “Why aren’t the college athletes seeing any of this money?” NCAA President Mark Emmert stated in the Wall Street Journal in January of 2012 that paying student athletes is “a terrible idea.”


In February of this year, USA Today reported that four Alabama football players were suspended indefinitely after being arrested for second-degree robbery. Clearly, these students deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law, but one must examine the situation more closely. College athletes being charged with petty theft has become a continual problem in athletics. This particular incident came shortly over a month after Alabama University competed in the BCS National Championship game, for which each school was rewarded millions of dollars.


Chris Smith of Forbes reported that Alabama University is now worth $95 million. With all of this money flying over the heads of the players, the motive of such crimes is not justified but certainly realized. Another example is that of college basketball player Jamar Samuels. In March of 2012, Tim Keown of ESPN reported that Kansas State’s senior forward Jamar Samuels was suspended for receiving $200 from his summer league coach, Curtis Malone. When coach Malone was asked about the wire transfer, he said, "The kid's family doesn't have anything and he called me for money to eat," according to “The kid didn't do anything wrong."


That year, March Madness generated $1 billion dollars in ad sales. That’s more than the playoff and championship series for the MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL. In fact, in April of 2010, reported that CBS and Turner Broadcasting signed a $10.8 billion deal to televise March Madness over the course of 14 years. If someone were to say that Lebron James had to borrow money to feed his family the night before the NBA Finals began, fans would be appalled, so why the distinction with a basketball tournament that generates more revenue? In 2010, the SEC became the first college conference that surpassed a billion dollars in athletic receipts. Some of that money comes from ticket sales and merchandising, but a great deal of it comes from television and media contracts.


College athletes don't exactly play for free, however. They receive free education, free tutoring, and have the opportunity to be trained by the most talented college coaching staff at the collegiate level.’s Jason Whitlock quoted Oklahoma’s head football coach Bob Stoops stating, “I don’t get why people say these guys don’t get paid. It’s simple, they are paid quite often, quite a bit and quite handsomely.” But is this a fair trade? Many, like Stoops, argue that most college students live below the poverty line, and that paying college athletes would be unfair and unethical considering how much they already gain from playing at a collegiate level.


Though it is true that, statistically, most college students live in poverty, most college students aren’t direct contributors to sports that generate millions of dollars for their school. It should also be noted that the Associated Press reported in 2011 that Oklahoma gave Bob Stoops a contract extension for $34.5 million through 2018, while CNN reported that college professors make an average of $81,000 a year. Also, there are several programs, such as Earn As You Learn, that allow students to take on jobs that are directly related to the career they plan to pursue. If a college athlete’s career goal is to play professional sports, shouldn’t they be entitled to a similar program?

Though most college athletes enjoy the financial cushion of a full scholarship, the National College Player's Association reported this year that 86 percent of college athletes live in poverty. The study showed that the average full-scholarship student athlete suffers an approximate $3,200 shortfall over the coarse of one semester. As the students fall into this deficit, collegiate sports become a larger commodity and more million-dollar advertising and television contracts are awarded to colleges.


NCPA President Ramogi Huma said in a prepared statement in the study that "We all know that big-time football and basketball players receive much less than they are worth, but the disparity between players' fair market value, what they receive, and the money that others receive is shocking." The NCPA reported that the fair market value for the average Football Bowl Subdivision is more than $120,000. Specifically for Duke basketball players, the fair market value per player is an astounding $1,025,656. Unfortunately, according to the Summary of NCAA Regulations, athletes are not eligible to earn revenue of any kind from their participation in a sport.


Although the full athletic scholarships that many college athletes enjoy should not be overlooked, it also should be noted that the education the students receive is not a form of currency. These students are, essentially, employees for a billion-dollar business, but they don’t get paid. Also, many college athletes only attend college to become professional athletes.


Paying college athletes the same as professional athletes raises many concerns. NCAA President Mark Emmert stated in January of 2012 that paying college athletes would only increase the incentive to bribe athletes to attend a specific school or help them cheat, which is currently a persistent problem within the organization. The only logical conclusion would be to periodically give more money to full-scholarship student athletes to compensate the out-of-pocket expenses that are driving these students into poverty in the first place.

Obviously, not every school’s athletic department has the budget to pay students. However, those that are solely responsible for generating the staggering amount of money (namely, the Division I schools) could be given more money to help the college athletes who require financial assistance the most. In 2011, the NCAA reported that they were attempting to implement a new rule allowing Division I institutions to give some student athletes an additional $2,000 miscellaneous expense allowance, but there has been no new proposals for consideration on the issue, and the law has been suspended and delayed so much that it will likely not be put into practice in the 2013-14 academic year as planned.


While many patiently wait for the other shoe to drop, some college students aren’t feeling as virtuous. The Washington Times reported that former college athlete Ed O’Bannon and six other active college athletes have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and are seeking class-action status. The suit claims that the NCAA engaged in a “conspiracy” to refuse payment to current and former college athletes for using their likenesses and names. Peter Berkes of SBNation reported that the NCAA is letting their contract expire with EA sports in light of the recent suit, which is gaining more attention every day. The NCAA chose to sever ties with the video game company, with whom they have had a fiscally healthy relationship since 1998. According to a spokesman for NPD Group Inc., the NCAA football game has generated more than $1.3 billion in that time span. The timing seems conspicuous, but the NCAA mentioned in its official statement that their “timing is based on the need to provide EA notice for future planning.”


Only time will tell if the new miscellaneous expense allowance rule, or one like it, will go through in the near future. But one can only hope that the NCAA will figure out a way to implement a system to financially help student athletes who need it the most.


Highbrow Magazine


Photos: JMR Photography (Flickr); Corey C. (Flickr); Matt Britt00 (Flick).

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JMR Photography (Flickr)
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