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The NCAA Pay for Play Debate: Should College Athletes Get Paid?
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The singe most contentious area of debate when it comes to compensating student-athletes concerns whether student athletes should be paid beyond the full cost of attending school. This "pay for play" doctrine in which athletes would earn a chunk of the revenue they generate is a highly controversial topic that has gained steam in recent years. The arguments in favor of "pay for play" stem from the fact that the players are the reason why the NCAA is able to make television contracts such as the one worth nearly $11 billion over 14 years just for the TV rights to March Madness; without the players, the NCAA would not be in existence, let alone be able to sign mammoth contracts like that one. Also, the report on "The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport" found some telling statistics that show, according to many, that these athletes deserve to be paid. By "using NFL and NBA collective bargaining agreements to estimate the fair market value of FBS football and basketball players, " the study found that any football player attending the University of Texas has what they call a "fair market value" of $513,922. Even more astounding, Duke basketball players have a "fair market value" of $1,025,656 according to the study. From a business standpoint, is it ethical for these athletes to not be paid their fair value, let alone not be paid at all? Those in favor of "pay for play" would say that that is unequivocally unfair.
While taking part in a congressional roundtable discussion on college sports in Washington, DC, Illinois Representative Bobby Rush described what the NCAA does as "a systemic, ongoing, prolonged abuse of thousands and thousands of innocent young men and women who are only trying to make a life for themselves and live the American dream." Athletes from the football programs at Ohio State and Miami—two athletic programs that recently got into trouble when athletes received improper benefits—would certainly argue that "pay for play" would put an end to the "black market" for paying players. Those concerned with the NCAA's mission of educating athletes first would give athletes an incentive to stay in school and pursue a degree rather than leave early to go pro. In addition, ESPN college football analyst Rod Gilmore points out that at least 42 of the 119 division 1 football coaches earn more than $1 million per year, but the athletes themselves are the ones out on the field; if not for the performance of the athletes, the coaches would not earn those salaries. Clearly, there are many arguments in favor of paying athletes, and many of them certainly have some validity.
However, one must consider this issue through every lens and from every angle, which is why I, along with the NCAA, believe for several fundamental and indisputable reasons that college athletes should not be paid. First and most importantly, paying college athletes beyond full scholarships would ruin college athletics and the amateurism that makes the system work. The reason behind giving athletes scholarships in the first place is so that they can get an education. Now that the scholarships fully cover the actual cost of getting that education thanks to the new NCAA legislation, the system is functioning the way it should be. Even Jalen Rose, a former basketball player at Michigan who went on to play in the NBA, said that the new proposal from the NCAA would help "ease [student athletes'] concerns of daily living expenses while still maintaining the integrity of receiving a college scholarship." Rose's opinion is especially valuable and noteworthy considering the fact that he has personal experience in the system and is an expert when it comes to the journey from being a young player, then a college player, and finally a professional. Furthermore, the fact that even Rose, who grew up in Flint, Michigan to a poor family, feels that paying athletes beyond scholarships should not be done speaks volumes about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of the balance between "student" and "athlete" in college athletics.
Secondly, many people such as ESPN's Michael Wilbon argue that only the most "important" athletes—football and men's basketball players—should be paid. Wilbon says that he "wouldn't be the slightest bit interested in distributing the funds equitably or even paying every college athlete." However, his idea of paying only men's basketball and football players would not work for two reasons.
First of all, it would not work because of Title IX, the law that requires men's and women's sports teams to be treated equally. Every dollar given to a male athlete would have to be matched and also given to a female athlete. This would effectively double the amount of money being paid to players, while leaving the men's and women's teams who don't get paid cheated and discriminated against. So, there is no way that "pay for play" could work without either violating Title IX or without paying everyone.
In addition, if only football and basketball players were paid using the money from the television contracts and media agreements for their respective sports, the NCAA and college athletics as a whole would not be able to function. As the NCAA's website, referring to the "Wilbon argument," succinctly puts it, "That argument ignores the fact that intercollegiate athletics programs are necessarily composed of many sports, many of which generate significant expenses over revenues." According to the NCAA, almost all NCAA Championships besides football and men's basketball "lose money." That is, they are not self-sufficient. The revenues earned by the NCAA from those two sports are used to help support the over 400,000 student-athletes, the vast majority of whom participate in sports that would not exist if it were not for the revenues earned by the football and men's basketball programs. Sure, you could pay only football and basketball players, but then every other NCAA sport would not have the funding to endure. Simply put, the NCAA and would cease to exist if Wilbon's proposal were to be enacted and college football and college basketball would become essentially a minor league system for the NFL and NBA.
Another argument against Wilbon's proposal to only pay the "best athletes" is that those athletes are the only student-athletes who have the potential to earn seven-figure salaries once they graduate and sign with professional teams. The NCAA is an organization that seeks to treat every student-athlete equally. Football and basketball players, after being treated just like every other scholarship athlete while in school, have a much greater opportunity to actually make a living from their sport after they leave school. A men's rowing team member might be one of the best in the nation at his craft thanks to coaching and hard work, just as much as a football player works hard and improves, yet the rower will not be able to sign a professional contract after graduation to continue doing his sport for a living. That is the case with athletes in almost all the other sports that are not profitable too.
There is no reason to pay athletes during college, taking away the amateurism of college sport, when the athletes who are the biggest stars and have the highest "fair market values" are a few short years from getting paid millions of dollars anyway. One of the biggest reasons why people enjoy watching college football and college basketball is because the student-athletes aren't being paid. They are out there competing and giving it everything they have for the love of their teammates, the love of their school, but most of all, their love of the game. Paying athletes would ruin this "charm" of intercollegiate athletics. For all these reasons, the NCAA should not pay any college athletes beyond giving them full ride scholarships.
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