To Pay or not to Pay College Athletes

Big time college football and basketball is clearly a big time business. Billions of dollars a year are generated from TV contracts, marketing contracts, ticket sales, and merchandise sales. For example, TV advertisers are expected to spend over 1.1 billion dollars on TV commercials during March Madness – second only to NFL Football playoffs in total national TV ad spending among post-season programming.   So where does all this money go? Answer: It goes to the NCAA, to the universities, and to the coaches. Where does it not go? Answer: the college athletes get nothing. Under NCAA rules, college athletes are considered “amateurs” who aren’t allowed to profit from sports. Two recent court rulings may affect the future of college athletics. In August, a federal judge ruled that players in college football and basketball programs are entitled to receive payment if their “names and images are used in video games or TV broadcasts. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board granted football players at Northwestern University the right to be recognized as university “employees” and to form a union. Both of these decisions are now being appealed

In what follows I will present arguments both for and against college athletes being paid. Then, I will give my take on this issue.

Here are some of the arguments for paying college athletes.  They should be paid because there is no other industry in the world where people who work in an industry and make money for the industry are not paid. At many universities students are in work study programs like tutoring and information technology. These students are paid for each hour worked and many of them have either full or partial scholarships so why are student athletes treated differently? Is assigning the label of amateur to a student athlete just a form of exploitation? Many college athletes put in over 40 hours a week between practices and games. They are also expected to continue their training during the summers. This effects a college athlete’s opportunity to earn money during the summer which is necessary to cover incidental expenses.

Now for the other side of the argument. If a program was to pay college athletes many very difficult questions must be answered. Do you pay the star football player the same amount as a benchwarmer? Do you pay athletes in non-income producing sports such as tennis the same amount as a football or basketball player? If you only paid athletes in sports that contributed windfall profits to a college would this be a form of discrimination against athletes in non-income producing sports? If there is unequal pay for athletes on the same team will this destroy team togetherness? Can a small college afford to pay athletes and if not would this lead to the removal of many college sports from the small colleges? If we can’t answer these questions or if there is no right answers to these question it would be impossible to pay the college athletes.

Here is my take on the question. I agree with paying all college athletes the same amount as what is paid hourly to all work study students at their college. Since a great majority of college athletes never turn pro, those students who graduate should be rewarded with a small bonus for their four years of work. Again, equality between all sports and all players at their college must be maintained. Therefore, after combining the profits derived from all sports at a college for a given year, a small percentage of those profits should be awarded equally to all student athletes who played all four years (under special conditions less than four years) and who graduate that year. Of course, a college has the right to decide what a fair hourly wage should be for both the work study students and the student athletes.

I look forward to receiving your comments on this controversial subject.

Original Comments:

stanley rothamn said…

To Matt R: I agree with what you said. The coach is the main recruiter for a program.One of the main reasons a player chooses his college is the coach. When the coach jumps ship the player should also have the option of jumping ship (without the penalty of sitting out a year). However, I would not allow the player to follow his coach because that would definitely be a tampering problem. Stan R

April 1, 2015 12:01:21


Matt R said…

Interesting and timely blog. What I currently hate the most about college athletics is the manner by which coaches at small schools (with a few exceptions) immediately jump ship after a successful season provides them with a better paying opportunity at a larger school (for example, how the basketball coach at FGCU accepted the job at USC after their great recent tournament run). These coaches make promises to the players and their families during the recruiting process but effectively use these players to enrich themselves. Same goes for the universities that the players represent. All the while, if a player wants to transfer to a different school, he/she has to sit out the next year unless they obtain a waiver. Perhaps we should start making coaches do the same?

March 31, 2015 02:52:58


stanley rothamn said…

Richard: Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You make a strong argument for keeping the amateur status for college athletics.People who believe that the privilege of playing a college sport and what goes with it should be enough reward would definitely agree with you. Stan

March 30, 2015 09:49:23


Richard Malinsky said…

There is such massive amounts of money being tossed around it does seem a shame the the athletes who are the core that generate it, but do not share in the wealth. However, I do believe in the concept of the pure amateur athlete even though it seems to be dwindling in our money drived society. I don’t think athletes put in any more time than scientists or any other discipline. Time and dedication is the price of entry for success. Athetletics are not work study.

March 30, 2015 09:41:21

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *