Cam Newton Was Paid To Play? It Doesn't Matter. College Players Should Get Paid.

Chris HuebnerContributor IIIDecember 13, 2010

I don't care if he got paid. He deserves some cash.
I don't care if he got paid. He deserves some cash.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

If you were watching ESPN on Saturday night, you were surrounded by controversy. It started at eight o’clock, with the Heisman Trophy presentation. If you weren’t aware, Heisman favorite and eventual winner Cam Newton was haunted for much of the college season by a pay-for-play scandal that was orchestrated by his father, Cecil Newton.

Cecil shopped his son to Mississippi State, saying that if the university paid him an exorbitant sum, believed to be well over one hundred thousand dollars, Cam would take his extraordinary quarterbacking skills to play as a Bulldog.

The scandal was dug up in October, and for the rest of the year, Cam, and his current school Auburn, were constantly scrutinized. Could Cam have decided to go to Auburn because they “out-bid” Mississippi State for his signature?

Ultimately the NCAA ruled that Cam Newton was free of any guilt, and would officially be eligible to play in the SEC Championship game and the National Championship game. However, doubts lingered, and many writers left Cam off of their ballots, with many declaring that Cam did not deserve the award. He had not shown the integrity that is required of earning the award, they said. They believed that he had broken the rules, despite the NCAA ruling him innocent.

The other program on ESPN was an excellent “30 for 30” documentary. Titled “Pony Excess”, the documentary covered the infamous rise and fall of the Southern Methodist University football team.

In the late 1970’s and until the mid-80’s, alumni and boosters showered money onto high school recruits in order to convince them to attend and  play for the Mustangs. Some recruits, Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson included, are believed to have been signed to the equivalent of professional contracts, with players receiving weekly paychecks and incentives for game performance.

The constant rule-breaking of the SMU players, coaches, alumni and even university officials caused the NCAA to impose the fiercest penalty it has ever given out. The so-called “death penalty” shut down the football program for what was eventually two full football seasons. It crippled the program for over twenty years. After contending for a national championship in 1984 and 1985, SMU did not even reach a bowl game until 2009.

In both the stories of Cam Newton and the SMU football program, the issue of paying college players is at center stage. Some people feel that the amateur status of these student athletes is important, and the rules which prohibit paying players, which date back to a bygone era, should be protected and upheld.

I, and some others, disagree.

First, it is important to point out the hypocrisy of the NCAA system. The two major college sports, basketball and football, have their own television contracts and their own video games. These two things alone earn the NCAA boatloads of money, not to mention the money earned from ticket sales.

Universities get a share of this as well. They earn millions by making postseason tournaments or getting invited to bowl games. Money also comes in when two schools schedule high profile out of conference games with each other.

Schools can spend this money any way that they want to. Athletic directors and university presidents have massive salaries. Oh, and coaches make a nice paycheck too. In the state of Connecticut, Jim Calhoun is one of the highest paid state employees. Same goes for Greg Schiano in New Jersey (they count as state employees because Rutgers and UConn are public state schools).

Yes, some of the money goes to improving the athletic facilities of the school, and some goes to help the academics as well.

But none of it goes to the players.

Well, that isn’t the whole truth. Players get something out of this whole deal. They play games, practice every day and, in some cases, risk their lives and their health in doing so. They are giving up four potentially productive years of their careers to college. And they get a scholarship. They get paid in books, rooms and food. But is it enough?

Everyone harps on the point that student athletes get a free education. But does it even matter? Many athletes don’t have schedules that are even close to being a “full load.” The oft made joke is about the many sociology and communications majors that exist among “student” athletes.

But everyone knows that they rarely attend classes. Everyone knows that they spend more time hitting the weights than hitting the books. And I think that everyone knows that many college athletes don’t really care much about school.

When hall of fame linebacker Dick Butkus was playing at the University of Illinois, he was heavily criticized for saying that he was only in college to play football. That attitude still exists today. The amount of college basketball players who don’t graduate is high, and well documented. If you are good enough, you leave as early as possible, which is after as your freshman year.

But many college football players let their priorities be known as well. Again, the attitude that if you are good enough, you leave as soon as possible, which is after your junior year. Hidden is the fact that many senior year players skip their spring semester to prepare for the NFL combine. They miss classes and don’t graduate.

Just because we value education doesn’t mean these athletes do.

I think that Jason Whitlock makes an excellent point in a column that he wrote last week for He suggests that college coaches should be paid in only books and education. How long would Urban Meyer, who left Bowling Green for greener pastures in Utah then left Utah when the Florida job offer opened up, wait before looking for an NFL job? What about John Calipari? Or Bobby Petrino?

I don’t want to appeal to the poverty of college players and their families in making my case. My point is that they deserve to be paid. They make the money for these universities and they see absolutely none of it. Then the schools pretend that by letting them sleep through classes for free, everything is alright. The money that goes into a scholarship is meaningless because the players don’t care about education and we let them get away with it. What’s more is that they have every right to not care about their education.

Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) and many other rich billionaire businessmen and women dropped out of college and immediately entered the job market without any restrictions. They were able to because they had the talent to do so. They have a skill or an idea that made them desirable to the business world and they found college to be undesirable or useless to them (read that as “they didn’t value education as much as everyone else did”). Instead of being stuck in college, they entered the job market and made money.

But college athletes can’t do that. The NBA and NFL have rules which restrict players entering the draft until a certain point after they graduate high school. Maybe this is a good idea; imagine an eighteen year old getting tackled by Ray Lewis. But until they are allowed into the NFL or NBA, they are effectively stuck in college. Brandon Jennings spent a year playing in Europe until he was eligible, but he was heavily criticized, and the move hurt his draft status. Also, football players don’t have a similar option.

So really, why can’t college players get paid? Is amateur status that important? I, as a current college student, can get a job on campus and earn money, why should players not be allowed to do the same? They put in the hard work, and, ultimately, they are the ones out on the court or field that are earning the money that universities stuff into their large and greedy pockets.

The rule is stupid. It’s archaic. It is from an idyllic age. It should be changed.

College players should be paid. They deserve it.

What do you think? Should college players receive money for playing sports? Comment below…