Problem with Paying College Athletes

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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There are over 460,000 student-athletes that compete within the NCAA across the United States. Of those 460,000 participants, not one of them received compensation for the money they grossed through various events and games the student-athletes participated in. As of right now, it is actually illegal to pay college athletes through the NCAA. This generates not only a lot of hardship for the athletes but creates a constant reminder that college athletes will not see any of the money they earned. Countless hours of work on and off the field and in the classroom creates a tough environment for student-athletes. With various obstacles to overcome, student-athletes face one of the most mentally and physically challenging four year of their lives. With little time to even think, college athletes have barely any time to hold a steady income from a job to have enough money for things like food and basic necessities. In fact, college athletes produce the most revenue for colleges and are yet to see any of it. College athletes should be paid some type of compensation for the amount of revenue they bring in for colleges.

The amount of revenue that college athletes generate for their schools is astonishing. For example, during March Madness the NCAA earned $900 million over the course of three weeks of basketball just last year (Abdul-Jabbar). The college basketball players that participated in March Madness saw not one dollar of that $900 million. Everyday college athletes bring revenue to their college and are yet to see any of their hard work through compensation. At the University of Alabama, the head coach of the football team, Nick Saban, makes $5.9 million in a year (Wilbon). Although Nick Saban is the head coach of a Power 5 school, it still does not justify how a head coach of a college football team earns more than a notable professor’s entire tenure at the University of Alabama (Wilbon). In fact, just last year (2017) the University of Alabama football team grossed $174.3 million from merchandise, games, and other miscellaneous items (Wilbon). None of the players on the team saw even a portion of this money as their own. The University of Alabama football team is just one example of how colleges bring in so much revenue from team sports. The University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team grossed $19.5 million in ticket sales alone in 2016. The head coach of the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team made $8.6 million in 2016 which is close to half of the gross ticket sales. This is yet another example of a highly successful college program that grosses a generous amount of revenue for their college and yet the athletes see none of this.

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Since college athletes generate so much revenue, these athletes should receive some sort of compensation for their efforts. Every day college athletes have to endure hard workouts, training, class, and have to find time to eat and study somewhere in their busy schedule.

One major problem with paying college athletes is whether or not it would violate Title IX. Title IX states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (NCAA). Title IX is very prominent in college sports and focuses on the fairness of men and women across the board of athletics. Paying college athletes raises the question of Title IX and how gender would affect paying both men and women equally. The main problem is that most female sports do not generate as much profit for colleges as do male sports. In fact, the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball and Football teams grossed around $36 million combined while the rest of the 20 varsity sports only grossed $1.3 million combined (Hobson). Football and basketball are the most televised college sports for the NCAA. The reason for this includes more postseason hype than any other college sports, as well as more marketing. Since men’s basketball and football are the prominent college sports, women would most likely not even get paid anywhere close to what men would. This would pose a huge problem for colleges as there could be various lawsuits regarding a violation of Title XI where women are not receiving the same treatment as men. Colleges do not want to take the risk of losing money when they can stay profitable from athletics.

There are various misconceptions about college athletes. In fact, one of the most common misconceptions is that college athletes do not care about school at all and are just at college for their sport. To better understand why college athletes are called student first and athlete second, it is traced back to the definition of student-athlete. Taylor Branch helped coined the term student-athlete by noting “College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students mean they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies. Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms” (Solomon). The term student-athlete was derived from a court case involving a college football player dying from a head injury during a game and the widow of the football player demanding worker’s compensation. The court ruled that the college was not responsible for the death of the football player because the college was not “in the football business” (Solomon). Now that student-athlete is properly defined, we can now dive further into why college athletes have a typical misconception of not attending college for an education, but for their sport. As an athlete, being able to play a sport in college is a privilege. It requires a certain willpower and dedication. In fact, in order to even participate in a college sport all athletes must maintain a 2.5 GPA (ESPN). Maintaining a 2.5 GPA can be challenging for some college athletes, especially while balancing a college sport. This proves that despite the misconception of college athletes not caring about their college education, they need an education to be able to participate in their sport.

Another misconception about college athletes is that they have special privileges.

Some people argue that college athletes should not be paid. People believe that since college athletes attend college on scholarship for their sport, that that should be enough compensation for athletes. Yes, getting your college paid for is a huge help and it does take a lot of stress from the whole college experience. However, most college athletes do not attend college on a full ride. This means college athletes are left to pay for room and board, meal plans, and books on their own. With playing a sport in college, it leaves little time for athletes to let alone eat but find time for school work. That means having a job while playing a sport in college is almost impossible. With college athletes not being able to have a steady income for themselves, it makes it difficult for them to be able to get food when they are unable to use their meal plans. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar describes his time being poor as a college athlete as, “…I was generally too poor to do anything but study, practice and play. The little spending money I managed to scrape together was earned on summer jobs. That money had to get me through the whole academic year” (Abdul-Jabbar). Even an athlete as popular and successful as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still struggled through college on very little money. Regardless of how many championships he won for his college, he still had to struggle like every other college student. It’s even more frustrating to know their skill is being showcased for profit and the athletes see none of it. Although college athletes do receive financial assistance, most of the time finding enough money to have dinner is a struggle.

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Problem with paying college athletes. (2020, Mar 11). Retrieved from