A college athlete plays in a basketball game

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

In the United States, college sports are a multi-billion dollar industry. However, college players don’t receive any of that money. As Chris Smith of Forbes points out, CBS and Turner Broadcasting made more than $1 billion off the March Madness playoff games alone, "thanks in part to a $700,000 ad rate for a 30-second spot during the Final Four." Because of statistics such as this one, there has been a push in recent years to examine whether or not this is ethical, when many of the college athletes participating in the games are struggling to pay their bills. When asked about the need for a change, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is very adamant that there is nothing wrong with the way they conduct business.

Why aren’t college athletes being paid?

Those who oppose the movement to pay college players tend to point to what is accomplished by the revenue being generated by advertising and ticket sales. Thanks to the money these sporting events bring in, universities are able to build facilities, pay faculty salaries, and maintain the general well-being of the campus without raising the cost of tuition. Also, deals with major networks garner interest in the universities, bringing in more students from around the country. So, big name sporting events can be directly beneficial to their schools, as well as businesses in the neighboring communities, due to thousands of fans traveling from other places to eat at local restaurants and stay in the town’s hotels.

Why should college athletes be paid?

It’s also a common argument that paying the athletes would take away from the atmosphere of amateurism that surrounds the institution. This might be satisfying if the coaches of these sports teams weren’t signing contracts for several million dollars. As of this year, University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has an annual salary of $7 million dollars. This doesn’t take into consideration the extra income that coaches pull in from radio spots and advertising endorsements. Surely, a fraction of that money could go to the people who are participating in the games.

True, athletic scholarships do open the doors for students who would otherwise not be able to continue their education, but that does little to account for the physical and mental strain that is placed upon them. During their time in college, students are expected to spend enough time on their coursework to maintain specific grade point average requirements, all while taking measures to ensure that they are in exceptional physical condition so they can win games. If they become injured or don’t keep their grades up, they will lose their scholarships and, in many cases, be forced to drop out of school. To quote Last Week Tonight host John Oliver’s analogy, “Paying top college athletes with an education is sort of like telling a full-time nurse, ‘There’s no salary for this job; we’re just going to be giving you free trumpet lessons, which you’ll be too busy to do, but if you don’t learn to play the trumpet you’re fired.’”

Where would the money come from?

So, how much money are we really talking about? Not every school can be making millions. According to NCAA spokesperson Meghan Durham, only 20 of the roughly 1,100 schools that constitute the NCAA make more from sports than they spend on sports. Still, this figure can be a bit misleading. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t making money,” says Southern Utah University professor of economics David Berri, “that just means they spent all of it." As long as schools can justify expenses of their revenue, they are able to claim that they did not technically make a profit and they are able to keep their nonprofit status. In many cases, this money is used for extravagant luxuries and outlandish salaries for coaches, which is why coaches are the highest paid profession in 39 states in this nation.

While there are definitely positive aspects of college sports revenue, it seems a little hard to swallow that the athletes you’re paying to see won’t see a dime of the cost of your ticket. Change won’t happen overnight, but perhaps it’s time to reevaluate some of the practices of this gigantic industry. The NCAA and similar organizations should make their decisions with the students in mind.