Pro / Con: Should We Pay Student Athletes?

Globe reporters debate whether colleges should pay student athletes.

April 5, 2018

Pro: Should We Pay Student Athletes?

A 70-foot slide. Two bowling lanes with video scoring. An outdoor basketball court and putting green. A barber shop, shoe-shine area, and a nap room. No, this isn’t a list of amenities of a luxury Caribbean cruise ship. Rather it’s a list of amenities included in Clemson University’s newly-renovated $55 million football complex. Clemson football generated 45.9 million dollars in revenue last year alone. Its coach, Dabo Swinney, pocketed approximately $6 million in the same year.

He isn’t the only handsomely-compensated college coach in the nation.

In fact, in 40 of 50 states, the highest paid public official is the head coach of either the state university’s basketball or football team. Those on the field, throwing, tackling, kicking, and running? Those often risking their physical and mental health in the name of winning for their universities? They earn zero.

You might be thinking: What about the thousands of dollars athletes “earn” from being granted full ride scholarships to college. And, yes, this is a valid counterargument, besides the fact that it fails to account for the reality of the lives of college athletes.

Historically, the NCAA has stood in blind support of its model of amateurism, that is – the model it has long adopted to ensure college athletes sacrifice their rights to employment and fair compensation. Essentially, the NCAA, a corporation currently earning upwards of $11 billion in annual revenue, insists that student-athletes are not employees.

This same model has rendered college athletes essentially pawns of their respective university – pawns of an institution. The best performers bring fame and recognition to not only the athletic program they represent, but also the university they attend as a whole.

As college athletics have grown more and more in tandem with commercialization, this labor extraction system has become inseparable from evil. The coaches coach, get paid millions of dollars. The athletic directors direct, get paid well into the six figures. University branding gains worldwide recognition attention. And, those on the courts, on the fields, proxies for these higher-ups, have their tuition covered. It is mere ignorance to suggest that a college scholarship – which, on average, is worth around $25,000 a year, is commensurate with the value these star collegiate athletes bring to their institutions and the NCAA.

The rationalization of the current model falls short when one considers the 43 hours an average college football player spends playing in an average school week. Take into account, also, the multi-faceted approach the NCAA has for extracting athlete’s economic potential. In televising the performance of these so-called students on national television, the non-profit organization, the NCAA, earns nearly a billion dollars annually.

This debate over the amateurism model has gained special momentum recently, namely after the release of a wiretap that suggested Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller had mentioned the possibility of paying star prospect Deandre Ayton $100,000 to join his team. And these kinds of recruiting scandals have become commonplace over the past few decades. A few years ago, Louisville University basketball staff hired strippers to lure in the nation’s best high school basketball players. Two decades ago, Southern Methodist University was caught paying its football players, giving the conservation around the NCAA’s treatment of its athletes a much-needed injection of momentum and urgency.

Schools have shown, time and time again, an egregious willingness to pursue extreme measures to lure top recruits. It is as if, they might understand, the obvious: the better their teams perform on the court or field, the more money they will make.

For every stakeholder except for the athlete, it’s a performance-driven business.

These countless recruiting scandals that stem from coaches’ and athletic departments’ violations of the NCAA’s strict set of rules is nothing more than a tangible product of the NCAA’s ignorant, outdated system – a system that has led to its fair share of adverse outcomes.

Outcomes, like the one-and-done phenomenon in college basketball, in which many of the country’s best players elect to abandon their education – to become fairly compensated for their market value.

Can anyone blame them?

It seems the on-campus barber shops and bowling alleys are not enough to make college athletes ignore their status as subjugates under the dominion of a corrupt, greedy system.

In recent years, star players, current and former, have come forward to voice their own reservations. Outspoken NFL player Richard Sherman, a Stanford graduate, said, “You’re not on scholarship for school and it sounds crazy when a student-athlete says that, but those are the things coaches tell them every day: ‘You’re not on scholarship for school.’”
Sherman’s current teammate, Michael Bennett, shared similar sentiment, saying “[The NCAA] says, ‘We gave you a free degree.’ That’s like owning a restaurant and telling an employee, ‘I’ll give you a free burger.”

With March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament that generates billions of dollars in revenue, underway, it is time we take a hard look at the ways of the NCAA.

The only way to clean up the mess that is college athletics is to upend the obsolete amateur model, grant athletes the employment status they deserve, and thus be bound to pay all stakeholders their fair market value.

That is not to say that the educational component of the college athlete experience should be dismissed as unimportant.
It’s the opposite.

Fair payment naysayers will pose the logistical questions. Fair payment advocates like myself will pose the moral ones and demand them be answered by the corrupted corporation that is the NCAA.

Con: Should We Pay Student Athletes?

As high school student athletes, many of us are used to taking a season out of our school year to dedicate 15 hours a week to a certain sport. Now, imagine tripling that time while being a full time student.

With reports coming out that many college athletes work more than 40 hours a week while still trying to get their degree, it’s clear that there needs to be some solution to reimburse them for their hard work.

While paying college athletes may seem to be the simple fix for their overworked status, the recent NCAA scandal uncovered by the FBI reveals the issues with paying student athletes.

Although there may be a moral aspect to repay these hard working students, a system where we pay our college athletes would not be a pragmatic solution.

To contextualize, college costs have increased by 260 percent since 1980 according to a study conducted by the Business Insider.

Unfortunately, paying college athletes would pose massive repercussions to the rest of students trying to attend college.
Time magazine explains, “Changes to how student-athletes are paid could lead schools, stuck with nowhere else to turn, to raise other students’ fees.”

The best example of this can actually be seen right now.

From Slate in 2015, “Colleges want to sweeten athletic scholarships. So they inflate the cost of attendance to give more money to athletes.”

Even in the status quo, we see colleges increasing the tuition for other students to offer more enticing scholarships to their desired players.

To offset paying all NCAA players a real and competitive income, all students would eventually suffer. This would ultimately lead to a vicious cycle of unaffordable tuition.

When you increase the cost of tuition, government gives out more student loan subsidies as well as subsidies to the colleges themselves and that would increase tuition further in a never ending cycle of unaffordability and loss of opportunity.

Logically, a NCAA student athlete would need to be paid $7.25 in order to meet the federal minimum wage. And, because of Title IX, a model where college athletes are paid would have to include both mens’ and womens’ sports.

For all 470,000 NCAA student athletes, that’s a minimum of over $3.5 billion dollars every year. Problematically, as CNBC in April 2014 reports, the average market value is much higher, with football players at $178,000 and basketball players at $375,000.

The article furthers that bidding wars between universities would undoubtedly raise the cost of players even further — perpetuating the corruption and ostracizing smaller colleges unable to compete with the financial capabilities of a large DI school.

This means we go past that $7.25 minimum wage and we can easily quadruple the $3.5 billion baseline sum.
This would be hugely problematic considering that many college athletic programs already operate at a deficit. In fact, Mike Herndon in August 2014 confirms that only 20 schools, all in Division I, generated more revenue than costs.

Because of that, while a few Division I schools could effectively handle paying their college athletes, most, if not all, Division II and Division III schools would not be able to handle this financial burden. Shifting to a system where we pay our college athletes would lead to a ripple effect throughout many colleges deteriorating the true nature and spirit of college athletics.

Michael Corgan of Villanova University concluded in his analysis that by paying college athletes, many schools would be forced to cut other sports to even consider paying both men and women student-athletes what could total billions of dollars.

This would eliminate opportunities for athletes in many others sports. Because we’d be harming the opportunity for higher education for the masses and worsening the status of college athletics by forcing schools to shut off other sports, it’s clear that paying college athletes, while noble in cause, is not a pragmatic solution.

While the uncovered corruption within the NCAA sheds light on the unfortunate exploitation of some of the United States’ most gifted athletes, implementing a system where all college athletes are paid would be illogical and potentially augment the corruption we’re currently seeing.

Thus, it becomes imperative that we keep in mind the potential impacts of such a change.

Unfortunately for paying college athletes, we would be jeopardizing college access for the masses.

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Daniel Cho, Sports Section Editor

Daniel Cho is a senior at CHS and is a fourth year member on the Globe. He serves as the sports section editor. He joined The Globe because he had an interest in the field of journalism...

Noah Brown, Managing Editor

Noah Brown is a junior, and has been a member of the Globe staff and community since his freshman year. Last year, Brown served as the Feature Section Editor, and focused his writing...

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