Thousands of Americans every year tune in to watch college football and basketball, cheering on their favorite universities just as they cheer on professional sports teams. In fact, big-time college sports are nearly indistinguishable from the pros. College football and basketball games generate more revenue than the National Basketball Association, according to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. And because of the money that schools make off of their high-profile sports teams, Nocera argues that the athletes should be paid.
As a former small-time athlete myself, I shudder when I think about getting paid for playing sports. The American college sports tradition insists that college sports are better than the pros because the athletes are unmotivated by money (except scholarships, of course), that their first priority on campus is in the classroom, and that they play ball merely because they love it and to show support for their schools. These are ideals that I would like to believe in, and they were true for me as a medium-level women’s tennis player at a small college. But it is hard to deny that Big 10 football and basketball are nothing more than pastimes for the players who often spend more than 50 hours a week practicing and training. So, how should these athletes be compensated? Are scholarships enough?
Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), didn’t think so. A few months ago he enacted several reforms to the NCAA business model, including paying top players from Division I schools a $2,000 stipend, which was intended to “increase the value of scholarships.” Emmert’s stipend plan only lasted a few months, as more and more administrators realized that they couldn’t afford to pay their players. The NCAA then suspended the payment.
Photo credit: Parker Michael Knight
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