Should College Athletes be Paid?

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Should College Athletes be Paid?
May 9, 2013

With the passing of another academic year, fans were able to enjoy yet another nail-biting NCAA Basketball Tournament and a highlight filled football season. Most would agree that the NCAA provides competitive sport as popular as the professionals. In fact, its annual revenue makes that point clear. College football and basketball generate more than the National Basketball Association, a total of more than $6 billion yearly.[1]  There is one major difference between the two associations, however.  NBA players get paid for the revenue they help bring in, while NCAA athletes receive no monetary compensation. The promise of a free education is not enough anymore if the NCAA wants to act as a money making business, and not reward those who help make it profitable. If the NCAA does not want to pay college athletes, than it should not hold these players back from entering the professional game.  However, colluding with the NBA and the NFL, athletes are restricted when it comes to joining the pro ranks. With these two ideas combined, athletes are drawn to the college game out of necessity, and not always desire. Some writers, like Stanley Eitzen, have even compared the system to indentured servitude or a “plantation system.”[2]  Concerning the revenue sports of men’s basketball and football, the players should be entitled to some monetary compensation for their work, as well as the right to enter the professional leagues at an age that suits their abilities.

A key point as to why the NCAA would not want to pay athletes is to maintain the amateur status of its reputation. In the U.S. News and World Report Andrew Zimbalist provides a definition of amateur as “someone who engages in the activity for fun, not remuneration.[3]  While that may be what NCAA President Mark Emmert thinks still drives the association he runs, things have changed over the years. The ideals of amateurism and the capitalist benefits that the NCAA reels in annually do not mix and are in fact hypocritical. Television deals and sponsorships are only growing. The three weeks of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, known as “March Madness,” generate over $770 million in TV rights deals alone.[4] The only reasons why these exist are the athletes themselves, and they are reaping none of the benefits from these windfalls. The idea of maintaining integrity in college sport is also a pervasive theme between Emmert’s, and other’s statements. In a New York Times’ piece in 2011 University of Maryland system Chancellor Brit Kirwan points the blame on the NCAA itself.  “The huge TV contracts and excessive commercialization have corrupted intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “To some extent they have compromised the integrity of the universities.”[5]

Areas in which the NCAA defies its own devotion to amateurism are the sale of video games licenses, game merchandise, footage, etc., that provide direct profit for the association. The players directly promote these examples, but the benefits received are to the NCAA and schools alone. Amateurism then serves as the guise used by the NCAA to take advantage of gifted athletes, in a way creating a system that benefits off of their talents for at least a couple years at a time. Football and men’s basketball are the sports monetized the greatest, but the effects spill over into the other sports as well. If the amount of money that these sports make for the schools’ athletic departments was not so great, then maybe the NCAA could maintain that these students are participating in a normal extra curricular activity. As long as their time creates such a cash flow, it would be a joke to say that is true.  Over the years the NCAA has changed rules that do not always align with pure amateurism. According to Zimbalist, in 1973 the NCAA altered scholarship terms so that they needed to be renewed each year.[6] This would imply that no athletes position was safe, a notion that does not fit with the love of the game. Zimbalist also brings up the gifts that winning teams receive that could sometimes be worth thousands of dollars. College coaches are receiving multi-million dollar salaries in this modern NCAA system. University of Texas Head Football Coach Mack Brown’s salary totals over $5 million. In comparison, scholarships for the entire Texas football team total just over $3 million.[7] Clearly, the NCAA does not need the coaches to maintain an amateur status. Over the years it seems the NCAA is walking a tightrope of purity.

Arguments against paying the athletes always include the fact that these men and women are not just athletes, but they are students first. This viewpoint would carry more weight if the emphasis were realistically placed on academics. Johnson and Acquaviva make the point that between weight training sessions, film room, practice, individual workouts, travel, and finally competition, these “student-athletes” cannot feel much like students. They point to an Adler and Adler study that concluded, “Big-time basketball and being seriously engaged in academics were not compatible.”[8]  Coaches will at times schedule less challenging classes, or ones that will fit easier into a practice schedule. These points make it seem like “athlete” really does come before “student.”

Many will say that the student-athletes are already compensated with a college education.[9] This logic is extremely flawed for many of the reasons discussed earlier. The athletes cannot get the same value out of the education because of the already intense time commitment to the sport that has given them the opportunity to be in school. The idea that a college education is payment would have to assume that a college degree always pays off in the long run. In reality, the glut of bachelor degrees entering the workforce is lessening their value. Without actually experiencing the class room and receiving the right networking and advising opportunities, it cannot be assumed that the degree is worth the athlete’s time. Especially considering that the time spent in college could be a player losing money available by playing in the professional leagues. The idea that an education is worth to a player what a professional salary would be seems to be a naïve view.[10] While a cash payment may not solve the problems of a college athlete, and it may perpetuate some economic issues, payment is what these players are entitled to because they are the symbols that fill the stadiums across national campuses. Even with a full scholarship an athlete may have to pay between $8,000 to $12,000 more than the allotted amount due to travel and other needs.[11] Assuming that the education itself, along with the opportunities and athletic department support, is payment enough, is assuming that those expectations are realistic and not just ideal.

While this may sound shortsighted, college athletes in revenue sports should be paid because it is right. A distinction must be made whether or not the NCAA is in business to take advantage of capitalism and make money. If no profits were taken, then the association would have an argument against paying players. In a piece from the Sport Journal piece, the author points to Kahn’s argument that the NCAA acts like a cartel in its actions. According to his study, in 2005 a draft ready football player is worth $495,000 and a draft ready basketball player is worth over $1.4 million to the NCAA respectively. [12] This means that the scholarship value the player is receiving in return for play is nowhere near the player’s actual worth to the school. This combined with the facts that players in the revenue sports receive no pay, and are also restricted to when they can go professional, exemplifies oppressive policy set forth by the association, in collusion with the professional associations.

What compounds the problem further is the NCAA policy to mandate when athletes can go professional.  The demand for paying athletes would not be as great of a mandate from this paper if the NCAA allowed players to skip college altogether. If a player wants to skip college basketball for a trip to the NBA, why not let him? There are a number of “draft ready” players that enter NCAA sports every year. This ranges from “one and done” basketball stars that have found John Calipari’s Kentucky to be their home of late, to physical football specimens like South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney who was restricted from being drafted this past year for his sophomore status.

To put the rules simply, to be drafted to the NBA, a player must be one year removed from high school and 19 years of age. This creates a two-fold problem. It defines the culture of “one and done” players, who just use the college game as a waiting period for professional careers. It also restricts a player’s right to pursue the career. While the rule may hamper undue expectations of riches, and allow players to mature, it also forces some players deserving of an opportunity to go pro, into a limbo period where very little reward comes their way, and the profits of their play go to the school and the league. A Forbes article points out that the age restrictions placed on NBA and NFL draftees is used to help the leagues, not the players.[13] The NBA and the NFL are able to use college as a their farm systems. Participation in college adds extra talent evaluation, bypassing guesswork. The NCAA, likewise, would like the top players to stay in school where they can win, draw headlines, as well as help to reel in the profits. This reasoning makes sense in terms of the associations involved, but the leagues will claim the benefits were for the players too.

The rule could be to test the physical readiness of players. However, players are not going to enter the draft in either sport if their bodies are not ready, especially football.[14] The NCAA may be worried about a so called “talent drain” from their sports. In the decade between 1995 and 2005, only 39 players went to the NBA from high school. That is an average of less than four players per year, and should not be considered a drain on the system. Also, if leagues like the NBA are worried about the maturity level of its players, one year in school will not necessarily cure a bad egg. The league can implement its own value systems to combat these dangers, and teach players how to be mature adults. NBA Commissioner David Stern has even said that the NBA’s intention to restrict eligibility is not to force kids into college. “That’s not our rule,” he said. “Our rule is that they won’t be eligible for the draft until they’re 19. They can play in Europe, they can play in the D-League, they can go to college. This is a not a social program, this is a business rule for us. The NFL has a rule which requires three years of college. So the focus is often on ours, but it’s really not what we require in college.”[15] Overall, the athletes see no gain from such a meaningless restriction that serves to maintain the NCAA as a monopoly pipeline into professional football and basketball.

This paper is not meant to create a payment plan for players, nor is it meant to say certain players are entitled to millions in compensation. The point is that players should get something in return for their time, because most rational fans know that basketball and football players are not normal students. If it were completely impossible for athletic departments to find it in the budget to pay athletes extra stipends, there would be very little conversation on the topic. This paper does not have a direct solution to that cash flow question. Neither is this paper suggesting large lump sums be paid to these big sport athletes. However, between NCAA television and licensing revenues, and large salaries paid to coaches and staff, a little extra can go toward the stars on the court. In the end, the NCAA does not have much to fall back on when making an argument against some form of compensation. It’s status as an amateur haven is almost erased, and the value of an athlete’s education at schools across the country is in question. Reform may not be simple, but it will be the right thing to do in support of the players.

 

 Works Cited

Burton, Richard. “College Athletes Are Already Paid With Their Education.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

Eitzen, Stanley D. “Slaves of Big-Time College Sports.” USA Today Magazine Sept. 2000: 26. Web.

Johnson, Dennis A., and John Acquaviva. “Point/Counterpoint: Paying College Athletes.” The Sport Journal. United States Sports Academy, 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

Nocera, Joe. “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes.” The New York Times Magazine. N.p., 30 Dec. 2011. Web.

Press, Associated. “David Stern Wants Change to Age rule.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 04 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

Rishe, Patrick. “Risk Management Explains NBA, NFL Eligibility Restrictions Impacting Athletes Like Nerlens Noel, Jadeveon Clowney.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

Walters, Chad. “NBA and NFL Draft Eligibility Restrictions – Why?” Lean Blitz Do It Better. N.p., 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

Wieberg, Steve. “NCAA President: Time to Discuss Players Getting Sliver of Revenue Pie.” USATODAY.COM. N.p., 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

Zimbalist, Andrew. “The Cost of Paying Athletes Would Be Far Too High.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

 



[1] Nocera, Joe. “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes.” The New York Times Magazine. N.p., 30 Dec. 2011. Web.

[2] Eitzen, Stanley D. “Slaves of Big-Time College Sports.” USA Today Magazine Sept. 2000: 26. Web.

[3] Zimbalist, Andrew. “The Cost of Paying Athletes Would Be Far Too High.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

[4] Wieberg, Steve. “NCAA President: Time to Discuss Players Getting Sliver of Revenue Pie.” USATODAY.COM. N.p., 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

[5] Nocera 2011

[6] Zimbalist 2013

[7] Nocera 2011

[8] Johnson, Dennis A., and John Acquaviva. “Point/Counterpoint: Paying College Athletes.” The Sport Journal. United States Sports Academy, 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

[9] Burton, Richard. “College Athletes Are Already Paid With Their Education.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

[10] Johnson 2013

[11] Johnson 2013

[12] Johnson 2013

[13] Rishe, Patrick. “Risk Management Explains NBA, NFL Eligibility Restrictions Impacting Athletes Like Nerlens Noel, Jadeveon Clowney.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

[14] Walters, Chad. “NBA and NFL Draft Eligibility Restrictions – Why?” Lean Blitz Do It Better. N.p., 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

[15] Press, Associated. “David Stern Wants Change to Age rule.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 04 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.

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