Should College Athletes be Paid?

The National College Athletic Association, or NCAA, has been sweating over the question of whether college athletes should or could be paid for endorsements, sponsorships and performance. The issue seems no closer to resolution now than when the NCAA was established in 1906. But as the tension between players and administrators escalates surely the breaking point must be near.

Johnny Manziel at Kyle Field photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Johnny Manziel at Kyle Field
photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

College athletes have chafed at issues regarding their freedom under the NCAA for quite some time. There is a rumor that, in 1991, the Men’s Basketball team of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas planned to boycott the championship due to their unhappiness with the way the NCAA treated them. However, they never made the championship and no one will ever know if the boycott rumor was true.

The NCAA has made it very clear that it is in no way tolerant of its athletes receiving any type of payment. The NCAA has always punished those athletes who have attempted to make a little profit from their talent, like getting discounts to selling their name to being taken out to dinner .
In 2010, former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was suspended alongside four of his teammates for selling memorabilia and receiving discounts at a tattoo parlor.

Even this year, Texas A&M quarterback and last year’s Heisman award winner, Johnny Manziel, was suspended for the first half of opening day for charging money for autographs.

The reason for this seems to be that the NCAA wants to stress the importance to these players that they are students before they are athletes.

“One of the [school’s] guiding principles has been that it is about students who play sports,” said current NCAA president, Mark Emmert, in September 2013.

Others, such as Richard Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, would argue that these athletes are already being paid, just not in money. According to Burton, “NCAA Division I athletes still receive expert coaching, on-campus housing, frequent meals, non-uniform clothing, free medical consultation, free access to state-of-the-art training facilities and free professional development.” Many of these accomodations are not available to normal students. Burton feels that many collegiate athletes are unhappy with their compensation because he believes these students are “not paid what the market is capable of bearing.”

According to the NCAA’s website, the organization garnered a revenue of $871.6 million in 2012. The projected revenue for 2013 is $797 million. Most of these funds do not go to student athletes’ education but rather to building larger stadiums and increasing the salaries of coaches and administrators. In 2008, the University of Alabama sports programs brought in nearly $124 billion dollars. Even a school without a widely renowned football program like Eastern Carolina University had a total revenue of over $29 million.

Aside from the universities themselves, the coaches are also paid generously. The highest paid football coach, Alabama’s Nick Saban, brings home $5.5 million a year. Texas head coach, Mack Brown, trails him slightly at $5.4 million a year. In this respect, these student athletes are paid nowhere near what the NCAA and their respective programs are capable of paying.

But another issue remains. Aside from the fact that these universities can pay their athletes, does that mean they should? After all, these students are there for school and may already be paid in scholarships and boarding. Ramogi Huma, former UCLA linebacker and founder of the NCPA, the National College Players Association, certainly thinks so.

“College athletes spend 40 hours per week of labor in their sport alone, generate billions of dollars per year, and can lose their scholarship if they’re injured,” he said in April 2013 on a US World and News Report. He believes that these athletes, the ones who are actually doing the brunt of the work, should receive their fair share of the fortune. “At the end of the day,” Huma believes, “college athletes are just like all other hard working Americans who should receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Although these students are receiving free admission and free access to programs, that is sometimes not enough for them to manage minimal expenses of attending their college. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, a defensive end at the University of Colorado, had to move off campus to more affordable housing. “Toward the end of the month, I’d have to call my parents and say, ‘It’s time. I need some money,’” Uzo-Diribe explained.

However, beyond the issue of whether colleges themselves pay their athletes for their services, others are able to use these players’ images and work for profit. Electronic Arts has agreed to stop creating their college football video games after numerous athletes voiced their frustration at the company for using their likenesses without their permission, an issue which would be easily solved if the NCAA allowed for Electronic Arts to pay the players featured in the game.

The question over whether college athletes should be paid revolves around whether or not they are students first or athletes first. Ultimately the issue boils down to one question. Do these students go to college to learn and live for themselves, or do the schools have them attend to play for their programs?

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