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.
In November 2011, Sports Illustrated broached the subject of paying college athletes, suggesting that all Division I athletes, including those partaking in low-profile sports such as wrestling, receive some money for performance. But the $2,000 stipend failure indicates that many schools are unable to pay even a portion of their athletes, much less all of them. And at a time when college costs rise dramatically every year and more young adults are left with thousands of dollars in debt, is it responsible to suggest allocating any additional funds to sports?
Finally, we come back to the dilemma about whether paying college athletes is ethical or “in the spirit” of college sports. Despite his reforms, Emmert is clearly not in favor of paying off athletes. He is quoted by Nocera as saying:
“If we move toward a pay-for-play model– if we were to convert our student athletes to employees of the university– that would be the death of college athletics. Then they are subcontractors. Why would you even want them to be students? Why would you care about their graduation rates? Why would you care about their behavior?”
Those are good questions, and ones that may need to be asked again and again as the NCAA decides how to compensate its student athletes.
Do you watch college sports? Should big-time college athletes should be paid in more than just scholarships? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Photo credit: Parker Michael Knight