A hot topic across college athletics has been whether or not athletes should be paid. It’s a question that has brought about much controversy, not only throughout college athletics, but all across the United States. Some are extremely passionate that these athletes should not be paid, and they argue that having athletes become compensated will ruin the whole goal of college athletics, which is to play for the love of the game and get a free education while doing it, while others believe that the athletes put in too much work and give too much to the universities to not be compensated.
Many different people, whether it be professional athletes or politicians, have advocated for these college athletes to be fully compensated for what they do. Bernie Sanders, Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont, and former candidate for the office of United States presidency shared his thoughts. “College athletes are workers,” he said. LeBron James, star basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, also shared the same sentiment as Sanders. “College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create,” James said.
Although many tend to think there is a clear-cut answer either way, the topic is extremely intricate and has much more complication to it then what would be appear on the surface. School Counselor and Women’s JV Softball Coach Matt Wehrman said, “This is a complicated subject with lots of different ins and outs. In short, I do believe athletes should be paid. In length, I do believe, in a way, college athletes are already being paid. College athletes receive both scholarships, and often free items from corporations such as Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor. These scholarships help pay for part, or all, of an expensive college education, that many other students do not have the opportunity to receive. So, I do think athletes should be paid, but I think they are already being paid in a way.”
But there’s another side to this argument and that would be that college athletes don’t need to be paid and they are compensated enough through their scholarship, which encompasses room, board, team apparel, and more. NCAA President Mark Emmert said “College athletics [are] about college students playing other college students, not employees playing employees.” A valid point that is brought up when supporting athletes not being paid is that it would ruin the whole point of collegiate athletics. Since these athletes are now being paid (theoretically speaking), the amateur status they had would no longer apply, which would basically make them a professional athlete.
Math teacher Ashley Brothers played Division 1 basketball at Indiana State University and thinks college athletes shouldn’t be paid. Brothers thinks compensating players would ruin the “feel” of college athletics. “There’s still a sense of playing just for the pride of representing your school and the love of the game,” Brothers said. Not to also mention, the athletes that do have the opportunity to play in college, are usually awarded a full scholarship, room and board covered, countless amount of apparel from their respective school, and also a food stipend that will get the athlete meals whenever they please.
According to this article from Forbes, college athletes are already paid up to $125,000 a year. Through professional coaches, fitness trainers, room & board, tuition, etc. The amount of things that are spent on an athlete to go to college on a scholarship is stifling and a number you wouldn’t necessarily think of off the top of your head. Math teacher Kendra Lonneman who played Division 1 soccer at Ohio University, said, “I do not think a majority of college athletes should be paid. In all divisions of the NCAA there are about 500,000 people playing a college sport with 180,000 students on some form of scholarship. I believe 99% athletes participating are fairly compensated in the form of scholarships and everything that goes along with them. However, there is about 1% or less of athletes that colleges are using their names and likenesses to generate a lot of revenue, I believe those athletes should have an avenue to share in those revenues.”
A huge problem across this entire debate has been the relationship between the players and the NCAA. The relationship has slowly crumpled and gotten worse as each passing year goes by. Brothers saw it firsthand as an athlete herself. “I was on our SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) and felt very represented and heard. However, there was one issue that I still feel needs [to be] addressed. There was an ESPN documentary on it a long time ago, but it still never got closure. There is a strong pressure among female athletes (many times coming directly from the coaches) to abort unplanned pregnancies in fear of losing scholarships, starting positions, potential professional careers, etc. I unfortunately know too many athletes that have dealt with this issue personally and are still coping with the affects it took on them,” Brothers said. The athletes in most cases have never felt well represented or understood and its added to the downfall of this relationship.
What could be the best way to fix this relationship and repair some broken trust amongst the athletes? Brothers said, “Keeping an open dialogue.” A dialogue between the student-athletes and the NCAA has been severely underused leaving each side still feeling doubt about the current relationship between the two parties.
One of the biggest questions throughout this entire debate has been, “Are the athletes being exploited?” The Guardian goes into some real life encounters between the NCAA and its student-athletes being exploited in some sense. The NCAA has continued to profit but also hammer down on these student-athletes for trying to make honest money outside of the sport they participate in. Tim Nervius, a one-time NCAA investigator who was on the complete opposite side as the athletes are now today, saw firsthand the corruption and exploitation up close and is now a strong advocate for the athletes and the opportunity to be compensated after spending years on the “other side.” “It’s a $14bn industry and college athletes work 40 to 50 hours a week. They put their health and safety at risk for the profit of a multibillion industry, and they’re not afforded the same economic rights as everyone else,” Nevius said in a 2019 article on the Guardian that can be found here.
“Exploitation is a strong term. I do believe that the athletes are being utilized to continue to build programs that continue to bring in more athletes and money. This is nothing new and happens at all levels of athletics. If you put out a better product on the field, you bring in more money, which means you gain the ability to improve facilities and bring in more athletes, to continue putting a better product on the field, and make more money. It is a mutually beneficial environment in college athletics. Athletes play a sport they love and earn a quality continued education, often for free, while the colleges continue to make money to continue to bring in more athletes, and the cycle continues,” Wehrman said.
“Yes, a very small number of athletes are being exploited, when universities use someone’s name and likeness to generate millions of dollars and the student does not share in those revenues, I believe that is a form of exploitation. With that being said, I would say a vast majority of the athletes participating in NCAA sports are not exploited,” Lonneman added.
There is much back-in-forth between each side and each makes valid points. College athletes should be paid. The amount of hours and work they put in is that of a full-time job, make no mistake. Especially with the situation we are currently in right now with these student-athletes who are risking their lives and health to play a sport, which therefore will generate money that will funnel into their respective universities. More needs to go these student-athletes because of what they provide to the universities and don’t get their fair share in return. College student-athletes need to be paid, and it needs to happen soon.
As illustrated in this cartoon, the athletes are carrying the bulk of the load for the NCAA, while the NCAA sits back and collects the checks, courtesy of the athletes and their many talents.