Is there an Ethical Dilemma with Athletes being Paid to Go to College?

College athletes receive money from revenue streams created through scholarship money, but I guess we need to wonder is it enough for what they need. The NCAA has explicit rules that prevent players from accepting bribes or incentives to play different sports and any payment made to the players has been viewed as a moral issue guiding the NCAA’s policies. “Punishments such as suspensions have been given out to players and player management due to violations”.

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(blue) In most of the NCAA sports, everyone (including the governing bodies) is involved and agrees that players compete on the field in order to receive an athletic scholarship. These athletes must subject themselves to injury when they compete and have to understand the risks and some would argue they be compensated further for these risks. The NCAA brings in millions of dollars yearly, and we are left with the question of wondering should more compensation be paid to these student athletes? Is it ethical to pay them or should their scholarship be enough?

The Wall Street Journal quoted a report by the National College Players Association (advocacy group for college athletes in the United States) suggesting that the average full scholarship ride lacks $3,222 a year due to other fees such as utility fees and even parking charges. The scholarship can only pay for so much of the player’s needs. A more progressive approach to funding NCAA football athletes should be considered. The new amount of funding could help players afford the necessities and prevent them from any potential NCAA violations such as bribes to play for a certain NCAA team. (blue)

When we use the term amateur in sports, we think of athletes who do not accept money for their playing on the field while they are governed by a regulatory body (NCAA). When we put this together with academics, student-athletes are allowed to partake in playing a all while receiving an quality education. This can be done by using student loans or receiving full paid scholarships from the NCAA. Paying players could lead to athletes being bias towards toward a university based on how much money they would receive to play a sport and the higher amount of offered takes all the focus off the academics. This would also lead to the problem of the larger schools being able to pay students more money than the smaller schools, and would that be morally/ethically right? Students would be faced the decision to choose a university with poor academics with excess funds, over a small Division III college with great academics and very low funds. “Utilitarianism, the theory of more benefits than added costs, would suggest the money would provide more necessities to the current players rather than the costs of an overall NCAA recruiting system of money (money that can create recruitment bias towards an NCAA team/school.)” (Gray)

Over the years, many colleges and universities have commercialized their programs and athletes so candidly that this has created the opinion these athletes are the ones who bring in the millions of dollars to the school. This could in fact be true in some select successful NCAA Division I schools, but would that mean it’s ethically correct to pay those student athletes. Many times when exceptional college athletes are good enough to earn a living at that age they have the option of turning to professional sports rather than stay in college. (yellow)

The idea of paying college athletes has been a legitimate debate for almost 100 years. A massive amount of television revenue comes from NCAA football bowl games and March Madness in basketball. The universities and colleges provide scholarships to athletes and this basically gives these students a free education for playing a sport, so the ethical equation comes in where we have to ask again, do those athletes deserve to be compensated more than just the scholarship. Looking at both sides of the argument should answer the question.

Athletic Scholarships from colleges and universities provide a paid education but we learn it’s not completely paid. These scholarships do not cover the full cost of living on campus where there is food to buy, events to pay for, etc. The Collegiate Athletes Coalition (CAC) estimates that NCAA scholarships are worth about $2000 less than the cost of attending a university, where they omit expenses like traveling and miscellaneous things. The past University of Nebraska football coach and United States Congressman, Tom Osborne (R-NE), determined that this cost was actually closer to $3,000. The former NCAA President, Myles Brand, believed scholarship limits should increase: “Ideally, the value of an athletically related scholarship would be increased to cover the full-cost of attendance, calculated at between $2,000 to $3000 more per year than is currently provided, I favor this approach of providing the full cost of attendance” (Parent, p.232). What we realize is that even with a full athletic scholarship, athletes still need to pay somewhere between $8,000 and $12,000 extra out but does that mean its ethical for the school to pay them this to play at their school . Therefore, the full athletic scholarship does not provide a “free” education. Thus question remains: is the full scholarship a fair and equitable deal for the athlete? (Green)

Another factor to consider is that many student athletes don’t realize their scholarships are not guaranteed because they are renewed yearly and a university can end it at any time. College athletes sometimes actually receive free room and board, free tuition, and even free books. This type of benefit is certainly considered to be illegal and some schools get away with it but when caught the athletes are dismissed from the program. Paying those students extra money would erase this problem but ethics comes into play again. Another problem seen in Colleges is many athletes in high profile schools never actually get their degree because these schools will take the athletically gifted students who are also not academically prepared for the classroom.

These athletes may quickly lose faith when faced with their class schedules/exams while facing extreme pressure to excel in sports. “As a result, many college athletes, a majority of which are minorities, fail out of school once coaches have utilized their eligibility. The NCAA functions like a cartel, keeping cost down while increasing profits. Rents for a draft-ready athlete earn the university somewhere between $500,000 for football and $1.422 million for men’s basketball (16), leading to a pseudo-plantation system where the coaches oversee the athletes demanding work and controlling their schedules on and off the field. This unbalanced system allows athletes to earn the equivalent of $6.80-$7.69 an hour (12) while coaches like Nick Saban of Alabama or Mack Brown of Texas earn over five million dollars a year (4). If the NCAA continues as a corporate entity and acting in a cartel-like fashion making millions of dollars a year, implementing a plan to pay student athletes for playing must be considered. Otherwise, America’s institutions of higher learning should follow the Ivy League schools’ example and eliminate athletic scholarships, get out of the big time sport business, and get on with providing students with a complete educational experience”. (green)

“The raising of financial compensation of NCAA football athletes to a salary while still including the scholarship both have a contractarian and utilitarianism argument to support this. While recruitment bias towards larger schools may cause moral issues with paying the players to playing, a NCAA salary cap could be put into play to both prevent ridiculous salaries and to sustain the player’s well-being.” (gray) These athletes take on a risk factor for what they are doing to themselves along with any costs they sustain while being in college. The NCAA makes millions of dollars off college sports here in the US and paying college athletes some of that money is certainly a valid argument because of possible injuries and expenses endured with school.

Colleges and universities provide students with education and that education costs money. Student-athletes can cost most schools a large amount of money each year, where full scholarships over four years range between $30,000 and $200,000. When ethics become involved in the discussion, we come to realize that the idea of college athletes getting paid would undermine the university’s primary purpose “education, something far more valuable than a modest annual stipend proposed by many”. (green) Paying athletes would be morally and ethically wrong for the university because it would show they don’t care about the student’s education, rather their performance on the playing field, while taking away the appreciation of a college degree.

Paying athletes would massively increase oversight by the NCAA to see things are being done right. Only a small percentage of Division I programs make profits and only in certain sports, where the other sports along with most Division II sports usually fail to make money and drain their athletic budgets. This would lead to athletic departments paying its top players and basically eliminating of most, if not all, of the non-revenue sports. It’s morally and ethically wrong to have a limited number of programs that make big money benefit, while other programs absorb big losses and suffer while simply trying to provide student/athletes a place to compete while earning their degree. “The purpose of the NCAA, along with Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Little League, and dozens of other organized forms of amateur sport is to provide a venue to play these sports something we should not take for granted. The problem is that some have shifted in thinking that playing an organized sport is a right, whereas it still stands as a privilege”. (5 green) Ethically speaking, student/athletes are always students first and athletes second, not employees. Universities have the right to earn profits from any and all of their sports programs which in turn goes directly back into the athletic program.

After much research, many people believe paying college athletes should be mandatory because it would motivate them to perform better and lift their morale. This money could help gain access for help immediately and after graduating in professional coaching, with extra nutritional support, strength and fitness training, finance advice and even physical therapy. Many also believe this could reduce the cost many schools pay outside sources to help the student-athletes in these areas. When discussing what ethics are involved when universities make millions of dollars from their athletics, we look and see what the students go through daily. To many, this could be thought of as a full-time job and an argument can be made this seems unethical not to pay them. There are arguments that these athletes lose out on many opportunities like internships, summer jobs, etc. that would improve their chances of finding employment once they leave college.

Student athletes risk their health daily, with the possibility they may end up in a wheelchair and never walk again. With the money they would make, they could possibly pay off any student debt and pay hospital bills if necessary, and get them ready for their future. Even when the students receive scholarship money, many now believe college education should be free today. One of the real issues here is that college athletics are one of the only ways to reach professional athletics, although some now allow players who don’t go to college, but these a very few. Some argue that there should at least be a minor league available where athletes can play and it is not tied to an education. That way they could be paid and they would still be able to play professionally if they are good enough.

Overall I truly do not believe that it’s ethical for college athletes to have a portion of the tremendous amounts of money that college programs generate. I don’t believe it is ethical to pay college athletes whatsoever. College athletes are typically given a full paid scholarship and receive extra benefits through the school. What we need to keep in mind is that education should be the primary purpose of any college or university, and when paying money directly to students for their abilities on the field we fight the moral/ethical issues head on. Funds should never be used to basically cut a check for a few select students; rather they should be used for the institution itself. Paying college athletes is never ethical.

When looking at the logistics, we have to ask who should get paid. Should soccer players, track and field runners get paid? Or should only revenue generating sports like football get paid? It’s never ethical to pay one athlete and not another, but if they do this, wouldn’t the top athletes only go to the universities that generate the most revenue? These are unethical questions to begin with, but who exactly would make these decisions and how should they make them? To say it mildly, it would be a travesty to pay students for their performance on the playing field instead of academic merit in the classroom. When universities decide its ok to pay their athletes, they are unethically hiring athletes for revenue purposes. This is wrong. These student-athletes are receiving a discounted/free education, which is an incredible gift that many can only dream of with benefits that could last a lifetime. Education is essential, and by paying athletes to go to school we make a mockery of that education.

Someone once said that money and greed are the roots of all evil, and this is no truer than in college athletics today. I believe it would be fantastic and pure if money could be completely removed from college athletics, but that won’t be happening anytime soon which means we’ll be discussing the ethics involved in paying athletes for years to come. I believe it’s immoral and unethical paying college athletes as well as exploiting them. The belief that college athletes are getting a free education is simply not true and education can no longer take a back seat to athletics, our ethics and morals need to win.

  1. http://www.newhaven.edu/192637.pdf
  2. https://www.workplaceethicsadvice.com/2014/04/should-student-athletes-be-paid.html
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomvanriper/2013/09/06/sorry-time-magazine-colleges-have-no-reason-to-pay-athletes/#147a3a6f796d
  4. Parent, C. M. (2004, spring). Forward progress? An analysis of whether student-athletes should be paid? Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal, 226-244.
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