One of the most controversial issues in sports today is the payment of student athletes. Athletic programs small and large combine to generate billions of dollars per year in profits, yet student athletes, the driving force behind the money, don’t see a dime. Many will argue that student athletes deserve to get paid at least a portion of the revenue they generate from ticket and merchandise sales, but digging deeper reveals that it isn’t as cut and dry as handing a student athlete a check each month.
Imagine for a minute that every student athlete got the same percentage of revenue that players in the NFL and NBA get. Both leagues collective bargaining agreements state that 57% of the team’s revenue must go to the players’ salary. There is so much disparity between what the top college football or basketball program generates and what the smallest one ekes out that recruiting would all but die. Why would a top high school prospect choose a school close to home when he can make thousands more by playing for a huge program? Schools like Texas, Duke and Ohio State would have so much more recruiting power than they already do, that an athlete’s decision to attend a particular university would soon be more about the dollar signs than about the education or opportunities they would be afforded.
Right now, college athletes don’t get paid anything (aside from a free education, but we will get to that later). The moment you start giving out money, even if it is a set amount, is the moment that college athletes cease to play sports solely because they love the game. Eventually, as with all jobs and workforces, the athletes would get disgruntled with the amount they were receiving. The starting quarterback would be upset that he was getting paid the same amount as the third string middle linebacker who rarely saw the field. Would you pay the same amount to the star point guard on the men’s team as you would the backup goalie on the women’s lacrosse team? No matter how you dissect it, as soon as money is involved it becomes less about the pure competition and more about the dollar signs.
The line between student and athlete is often blurred, especially at powerhouse programs. Student athletes have reported that coaches have approached them about changing their majors to better accommodate their athletic schedules. Most college athletes (but not all) are on some sort of scholarship which means that their tuition is paid for, as are their books and living expenses. Sure, the student might not be at that university if it wasn’t for sports, but the fact of the matter is that they are there to get an education. A collegiate athlete’s ability to play sports has given them the opportunity to receive a college education and they should be taking advantage of these opportunities. As soon as you pay a student athlete, the focus immediately shifts from schooling to sports and that is just not right.
While I don’t believe that student athletes should be paid while in school and playing college sports, I do believe that they should be reimbursed in some way. The reimbursement should encourage athletes to graduate, perhaps giving them a set amount of money upon completion. They could even offer to fully fund the pursuit of a post-graduate degree for those who are interested in advancing their education. Let’s make no mistake, the present system is feeding off of the revenue that these kids generate without kicking back any more than a free education. As a college graduate, I can say that the gift of a free education is priceless. The money that they are saving these athletes in student loans is worth way more than the actual cost of tuition, plus the job opportunities available to those with a degree are far greater than those struggling to make it without. Each and every student athlete is awarded the chance to do something great with their time in college, whether on the field or off. And that is the greatest payment anyone could receive.