The debate over whether college athletes should be paid seems to be one of the hottest topics of conversation among sports writers, and those athletes who have decided to pick up the pen themselves lately.
I’m going to take the less culturally popular position on this one: they shouldn’t be paid.
What I see lacking from most of these authors is lack of acknowledgment for what they are getting, a substantial college scholarship. Now, one myth about college scholarships is the so-called “full ride.” There are virtually no college athletes who get away with paying for nothing. Most athletes usually have to pay some costs like books, food plans and dormitory costs.
But at the end of the day, even a half-scholarship at a school is no small sum.
According to the College Board, an education research firm, the average out-of-state tuition cost for a public university in the 2018/2019 school year was $26,290 per year. At private schools that number is likely higher, while in-state tuition at public institutions is lower.
Providing these scholarships allows many athletes to attend colleges they could never have afforded to otherwise. Many schools err on the side of generosity when determining to accept a prospective athlete with grades that might not be quite up to snuff.
Some may argue that only 59% of Div. I athletes receive scholarships. To that 41% I say too bad. No one is forcing them to compete in college athletics. If they don’t like the opportunity, there are countless athletes waiting in line to happily fulfill those spots on the team.
The star athletes who clamor the loudest for pay do not make up this 41% contingency. If they can’t get a scholarship somewhere, they will find it somewhere else.
In addition to the pure gift of knowledge, a college education can set an individual up for a lifetime of success and better job security than what only a high school diploma would offer. College athletes have a natural leg-up in the job search as any employers are likely to look favorably upon them because of their team-based experience, before looking at what grades they got while in school.
Of course, if you consider these scholarships as annual wages, they would pale in comparison to what most professional athletes are making. But they’re not professional athletes, at least not yet.
According to the NCAA, fewer than 2% of college athletes go on to play sports professionally. So in reality, 98% are already indirectly receiving more than they ever could expect to gain if they keep playing sports.
But you can’t forget about those 2%.
The wealthy, nonprofit NCAA is a draconian institution to say the least. It makes billions off its product each year, with 11 NCAA executives making more than $450,000 each in 2016. The University of Alabama athletics program made $174.3 million in revenue in 2017, 20% of the school’s overall budget.
How much do those profit-generating athletes directly sniff of this? Zip – at least legally. It’s not shocking that cheating occurs.
That is why I would support athletes making money from their name, image and likeness being used commercially in video games and for products. Current rules prevent athletes from making any endorsement money, immediately losing all college athletics eligibility if found in violation.
An April NCAA proposal would allow college athletes to earn unlimited amounts of money from endorsement deals, sports camps or other business agreements – even ones they started, with schools at the Div. I, II and III levels making the rules to regulate this activity. They would not be allowed to be paid by their schools or to use school logos in their marketing. The proposed action would be enacted for the 2021-22 academic school year.
Opening this door will certainly open a new can of worms with ensuing problems. The percentage of athletes who are marketable from a business standpoint is still extremely low in relation to the entire athlete pool. Jealousy and even stronger emotions could arise among teammates.
Furthermore, the NCAA seems rife with payment-related and other cheating scandals each year. What grounds are there to believe that it would do any better managing this revolutionary change?
As long as events like the College Football Playoff and March Madness are as lucrative and heavily watched as they are, revenues will continue to skyrocket for the NCAA. There is no easy answer to removing players from the short end of the equation and this will likely be a topic of conflict for many decades to come.