The Problem With Paying College Athletes

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.

Related Stories:

College Students Turn to Sex Work to Pay Off Debt

GM Pulls Offensive Ad Mocking College-Aged Cyclists

College Sports Teams Use Deception to Undermine Gender Equity


Photo credit: Parker Michael Knight


Gina P.
Regina P6 years ago

College should be for an education, not sports. Only students who play sports well and can keep up their grades should play and for nothing but the experience of playing. Honor Society members and band members don't get paid.

Jose Ramon Fisher Rodrigu

I have tried to work my head around this issue on many occasions and can't figure out a clear solution, but it is clear that there is a lot wrong with the current system.

Berny P.
Berny p6 years ago

we should be teaching our kids to get a good education and do something for society that is worthy and not just some game!

John Mansky
John Mansky6 years ago

So what would be next? Paying High School players too? Maybe then there would be less dropouts too? Maybe they would go into Sports? So give the children several million to play football! This would more than pay for a college degree. Look out sponsors!..

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

No they shouldn't get paid. If they are going to college on a scholarship it should be because of their academic and playing achievements not only playing achievements. You ever listen to some of these guys they can’t put a decent sentence together and they talk like they dropped out of HS. These jerks should NEVER be able to play pro ball UNTIL they graduate and they should have to graduate with a least 3.0 grade average. In fact, if their grades fall below a standard average that is set they should lose their chance to play. I am really tire of these guys getting a free ride at college. Female athletes are treated much differently. I not advocating changing the standard for women, I’m advocating raising the standard for their male athlete peers. Since we’re discussing this I don’t think pro teams should be allowed to recruit from high schools.

Von C.
Von D6 years ago

Sports isn't a job. It is a privilege. They have already been given a free ride to some of the best colleges in the county and that counts as a lot of money. They are completely taken care of as far as health matters and get free tutors for their classes as well. I'd say they are compensated very well already.

Greg K.
Greg K6 years ago

The student athletes should be paid at the same rate that all the other students who work in the food center or other work study jobs get paid. All students who work at any job at the college should have a health care plan that covers them for any injury that could possibly be related to that work - for life. No athletic scholarships of any kind should be allowed. All awards should be based on academic performance and financial need. I do not believe in slavery of any kind - that goes for the bullshit involved with unpaid internships also. Only recognized charities should be allowed to use volunteer workers and only for non-profit work.

Currently, a college student athlete can be injured and lose the chance of getting a good job and/or health insurance for life because of a medical condition that was a part of the tons of money involved in sports. This situation is a national embarrassment.

Eddie C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Liselle, Number one, you are right, we wont get rid of college sports, because sports bring in millions of dollars, and that is the reason why schools exists right? To make a profit?
Number two, there are millions of kids out there living in poverty, and a hell of a lot of them are very bright, and have good ethics, and will work hard to accomplish great things in their lives, but Colleges don't give a rats @$$ about the intelligence of a person do they? They only care if the ape can throw a football.
According to your argument, intelligent students are deservedly left out in the cold, and students who are gifted in the testosterone dept. are the ones who should be promoted as the best of our communities, and given easy ups over everyone else. The idea that athletes are better than mortal humans is an idea that is getting completely out of hand. If you can't help the students who really deserve to be helped, because they actually will make a contribution to society when they graduate, then why should we make sure some cocky jock gets an easy ride?

leanne mcivor
leanne Torio6 years ago

The corruption, power, worshipping and greed/money of pro sports makes me sick - the only sports that should be revered and supported is the Olympics - I wouldn't spend my last nickle on a pro sport game and support that crap - we should be teaching our kids to get a good education and do something for society that is worthy and not just some game!

Liselle McFletcher

Number one, you're not going to get rid of college sports. Number two, your're missing the point... These kids work their heart out, for the most part, for their school. Most of them are never going any further than college sports. Their scholarship is the only "perk" they get. Most of their families can't afford to help them out much at all. So between school, practice, and games there is no life. Most of them have no extras. This is why the best and the poorest are so susceptible to those who would wave the money and the illegal perks under their noses. Very few will say no when they have the opportunity to help their families and make their lives a little easier. Those who do are admirable, but outside the norm. With all the millions of dollars these schools are making off their blood, sweat, and tears, why can't they give them a stipend and make their lives a little easier? Scholarships cover tuition and room and board. They are one year renewable... not for four or five years. They don't cover books, in some cases they don't cover food. Get real folks most of these kids, not all, are living far below the poverty level and all they're asking for is a little help.