Paying NCAA Athletes Not a Moral Issue

Chris FinocchioCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07:  Lineman Marcell Dareus #57 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball after an interception as guard Michael Huey #63 of the Texas Longhorns attempts to tackle during the second quarter of the Citi BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010 in Pasadena, California. Dareus would score on the play giving the Crimson Tide a 24-6 lead over the Longhorns. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With Reggie Bush, UNC's defense, and Marcell Dareus in the news over improper benefits, or contact with agents, there is a renewed discussion over paying NCAA athletes.


On the Pay Them Side :

  • Athletes are often poor.
  • They put in too much time for sports to have jobs.
  • They generate millions of dollars for the schools they play for.
  • If you make money for someone, you should get paid.

On the Don't Pay Them Side :

  • They already get paid with an education, housing, and stipend.
  • Education needs to be the primary focus for these kids because few will play pro sports.
  • There isn't enough money to pay them.
  • An NCAA football player's impact is pretty small.  The value of an athletics department depends much more on the school's alumni support, popularity, traditions and institutions as a whole.

My Take:

We don't talk about whether plumbers are underpaid because people choose to be plumbers, and they are free to negotiate prices with employers in whatever manner they want.

They can't be underpaid or overpaid. There is no such thing as a fair wage for a plumber based on some abstract idea of how hard they work.

Likewise, kids choose to go to college to play sports and not get paid outside of tuition. If that was not their best option, then they would do something else.

Stop talking about paying NCAA athletes like it's a moral issue with one right answer.

Compensation for NCAA athletes depends on their value to the school, the school's value to them, and their alternatives. 


Brandon Jennings realized he had a better option and didn't go to college.

Bryce Brown's adviser suggested he might follow Jennings' lead and go to the CFL.

Sonny Vaccaro considered putting OJ Mayo, Derrick Rose, and all those kids on a barnstorming team for one year after high school.

For Brown and Mayo, the benefits of college outweighed getting paid more for one year. For Jennings it didn't. No one was exploited.   

The only possibly valid argument I can imagine is one that says the NCAA acts as a price fixing monopoly with all schools agreeing not to pay athletes, and that every other price-fixing body like a labor union is also bad.