Should Student Athletes Be Paid?


An ongoing controversy in college athletics: should student athletes get paid while they’re representing their school on the field?

The NCAA was born of several meetings in 1905. These meetings were called by President Teddy Roosevelt to encourage reforms that would protect student-athletes, namely football players, from some very severe practice methods that led to many cases of serious injury and death.

Wikipedia defines the NCAA as “The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a non-profit association that regulates athletes of 1,281 institutions, conferences, organizations, and individuals that organizes the athletic programs of many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.” Not-for-profit? Really? When I refer to organized crime in America, I don’t mean the mafia I’m talking about the NCAA. Some of these association officials receive staggering salaries – more than the president of the United States – and top that off with massive bonuses tallying in the millions!

I’m a supporter of student athletes receiving compensation beyond a free (or almost free) education. I feel that the financial gains from which the schools and the NCAA benefit by using the athletes’ likeness has reached a level of exploitation that should be acknowledged. Of course a free education is incredibly valuable, but I do not think these student athletes can be considered amateurs any longer, not when they’re bringing in millions.

Football and basketball bring in an average of $15.8 million and $10.1 million respectively per division I school (source: College football coaches continue to see increases in their salaries each year – the average head coach at a major college is making $1.64 million, and that’s only average. Seventeen NCAA football coaches made over $3 million in the 2013 season, several of them made more than $5 million. Assistants and coordinators also continue to see increases, often earning $1-2 million depending on their school.

I’m not discrediting coaches at all, just using this as a frame of reference; it’s the athletes that make it possible for them to earn that kind of salary.

Handing these athletes paychecks every two weeks probably wouldn’t be appropriate or effective, but funneling the money into an escrow account (quantity would have to depend on the athlete, the sport and the school), accessible upon graduation, sounds like a viable approach. Maybe they even have to pass an aptitude test of some sort, but I do think the athletes should receive compensation considerable to the percentage of money they are bringing in to their schools.

Schools are doing more and more each year to improve financial gain through their athletic programs. This includes scheduling more games and tournaments every season, and televising even weekday games. Players have watched their schools leave behind traditional rivalries at a chance to make more money, such as when the University of Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference after 60 years to join the Big Ten. There are currently over 40 bowl games compared to just 18 in the 80s. Why do we have games no one will watch? They make money!


Forbes’ Chris Smith wrote that a 30-second ad spot during the Final Four goes for about $700,000, bringing in more than $1 billion for Turner Broadcasting and CBS. That revenue translates into millions of dollars in payouts to athletic conferences from the NCAA, and big bonuses for the coaches as well.

But players don’t see any of the money that pours into the NCAA and colleges, despite the NCAA using their likeness, their signature, photo, name, to earn money on jerseys, video games and other memorabilia. Despite these athletes risking their future each and every time they step on the field or court to career-ending injuries (which could cost those players and/or their families thousands in medical bills when the schools aren’t required to pay). If these athletes are seriously hurt they lose their scholarship benefits at the end of the year.

The amount of money being made from college athletics is far from amateur, and I think these athletes deserve a piece of the action. Without these student-athletes there is no revenue! The NCAA is supposed to protect and advocate for these athletes, but as these people get rich, student-athletes are “graduating” from supposedly tough schools unable to read above a grammar school level. Realistically it would probably take years to work out all of the details, but I think compensation, along with that “free” degree, could go a long way.