Arguments Against Paying College Athletes And Why They're All Wrong

Will VaughnCorrespondent IMay 13, 2008

Imagine if all the beer companies got together and decided that none of them would sell any beer for under two dollars and they would not let any new beer companies enter the market. We would all be pretty upset.

The NCAA has done the same thing to college athletes. They have gotten together and agreed that none of them will pay college athletes a dime and they will not compete against any teams that pay athletes. Just as we would have no choice but to drink expensive beer, college athletes have no choice but to go unpaid for 4 years as they generate millions in revenue for their schools.

I say open college sports to the free market. Instead of talking about whether Julio Jones is a five Star or a four Star, we could be talking about whether or not Alabama should offer him 800 thousand dollars or 1 million dollars.

The current system forces football players to make a huge bet on their athletic ability. They bet that if they work hard with no pay for four years they will get a guaranteed 250 thousand dollar salary. They either get zero dollars or 250 thousand dollars, or more.

A free market would allow players to still make good money even if they don’t have NFL talent or if they get hurt before their Junior/ Senior year.

That’s enough of a reason to pay college athletes for me but I’ve gone ahead and examined some counter arguments.

But, They get Paid with Free Tuition?

Students pay 100 thousand dollars to go to college for four years, so if you let an athlete go to college, that’s like giving them 100 thousand dollars. Right? Wrong.

If you give me 100 thousand dollars worth of cat food, that’s not like giving me $100,000. Most athletes would never pay 100 thousand dollars for school just as I would never spend 100 thousand on cat food.

For a variety of reasons, a college education is worth far less to college athletes than it is to normal students. Normal students prepare themselves for college in high school and work hard in college, in order to get a good job.

Athletes, generally speaking, are extremely unprepared for the college course work expected of normal students. With the help of an army of tutors they can merely try to stay eligible.

There’s no reason for them to try to complete the work they are unprepared for anyways because it has nothing to do with their career aspirations. A financial consultant will depend on what they learned in college accounting classes to succeed. A cornerback will not rely on what they learned in sociology class to break up a pass.

Hell, Vince Young reportedly got a 6 on the Wonderlic exam and was still drafted third. A score of 10 is supposed to indicate literacy.

It Would Ruin the Tradition and School Spirit of College Sports?

Paying college athletes would just give each college a pro team that would have no connection to the student body, goes the argument. Let's stop pretending college athletes are like normal students.

Anyone who’s gone to a big sports school understands this. Athletes sit together in packs in the back of classrooms isolated from everyone else.

They don’t study at night in the libraries so they get good grades so they can get good jobs. They have tutors prepare their work for them and make sure they study enough to stay eligible.

When students are vomiting after too many Natty Lights on a Thursday night, athletes are vomiting after too many wind sprints. I don’t feel any more attachment to the athletes on my college’s teams than I do to with the athletes on pro teams I root for.

I love my college football team because I spent four of the best years of my life going to all the home games and cheering with my friends; not because our back up QB occasionally made appearances in my Psych class.

Paying Athletes Would Remove Parity from College Sports?

If anything, paying college athletes would increase parity. Over the last few years we have seen scores of players eschew Midwestern schools for USC or SEC schools because of the warm weather. Relatively trivial matters, like weather, would no longer give certain schools a huge advantage if players were getting paid.

Recruiting would become a much more honest and transparent affair. Florida would stop winning recruits on account of Urban Meyer befriending their girlfriends.  Paying athletes would also allow nontraditional football schools to quickly develop programs. 

If Harvard decided they wanted to compete with LSU, they could spend the money and get it done. The only schools that would be harmed would be schools that are neither wealthy nor have strong community or alumni support for football.

But, if a school and its fan base do not want to spend money on their team, do they really deserve a competitive team?

There’s not enough money to pay College Athletes?

People like to point out that many college athletic departments lose money, and they assume there would be no money to pay athletes with. They forget that men’s basketball and football subsidize every other sport. Without football there would be no money to pay for women’s gymnastics.

If college football players were paid, it’s possible that there would not be enough money for women’s gymnastics. But, is there really a problem with that? Why should students pay more for tuition so that a team can exist that impacts almost no one besides those on the team?

Across the nation, college students play club hockey, lacrosse, and rugby. Sports like women’s gymnastics could be relegated to club status where they would have to raise their own money like any other student organization that doesn’t profit the university.