College Football: 5 Reasons Why Student-Athletes Should Not Be Paid

Patrick Ferlise@@PatrickFerliseCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Cam Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates with the crowd after the 2010 SEC Championship against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Georgia Dome on December 4, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Tigers beat the Gamecocks 56-17.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Since the dawn of new media and more efficient commercialism, collegiate athletics has seen its share of trial and tribulation amongst its programs. With better-publicized sports programs, there became the looming and controversial question of whether universities should pay their college athletes for the large amounts of revenue being brought in by their contributions. Though many arguments are in favor of paying college athletes for the intense effort they exhibit on the playing field, the underlying factor is that it is not financially sound for athletic organizations to dedicate large amounts of money that they do not necessarily have to the students who are already receiving hefty scholarships.

On the other hand, there are many countless protagonists in support of wages for college athletes. Many analysts and university professors see this idea as a poor excuse to keep money for the institutions instead of rewarding athletic excellence. But what is the main aspect these people find faulty with the “system” that has been around for decades? The idea is quite simple—over the years, athletes have fallen victim to the intensely publicized jungle of college sports, which for their dedication in leading their universities to championships, they receive no such compensation for their actions.

The opposition to this traditional idea that collegiate athletes are students and not “paid professionals” has gained a great deal of momentum over the past few years, especially since football adopted the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and basketball publicized its well-acclaimed playoff system. Debatable as it may be, antagonists of the current state of college sports argue that students of these educational institutions spend more than 35 hours per week practicing for their specific sport, with little time to make room for study purposes. They are adamant that these “slaves” to the university to which they represent should be compensated for their countless service.

On the other hand, many financial experts and traditionalists argue that college athletics already pay more than enough money to students—in the form of scholarships. These scholarships are upwards of $200,000 and also cover the cost of living and summer classes as well. 

Not only does the expense of commitment supposedly take a toll on a student-athlete’s wallet, but the fact that less than one percent of all who participate in sports representing a university actually progress into the professional sporting field leaves room for major concerns.

There are many, including the players themselves, who feel that individuals who participate in the college realm and do not move on to the bigger picture deserve some level of pay for what some call “talents that are squandered.” Both sides of this issue can agree that there are a lack of college athletes that can obtain professional stardom. However this is another affirmation as to why students are given full-ride scholarships in order to study whatever field or trade they choose for extensive amounts of time to achieve a degree. The extent to which these student-athletes may receive financial aid varies depending on the contract with the institution, but most colleges will write a blank check, or “full-ride,” to any person who has the qualities that the school is searching for in an amateur athlete.

There are many common misnomers about the system in which college athletes have been immersed in over the past few decades. The most common misconceptions lie in college football’s Bowl Championship Series, which has been the target of heavy debate as to whether its original design has been a positive enhancement to one of America’s most prized games.

Its formula consisted of changing the landscape of college football into not just a chance to play for a national championship title, but to compete for a spot in various featured games sponsored by big-name companies throughout the United States. This format brought NCAA football to a completely new level where the sport became intensely commercialized as well as strengthened the revenue that athletic departments received for participating in the system. But how does this tie in to the arguments that college athletes should be on the payroll?

It is quite true that the BCS system brings in a vast amount of financial assistance to universities that choose to join in on the party, but to the extent to which these institutions receive revenue from the program has been extremely exaggerated. The same people who are lobbying for student-athletes to be paid are also claiming that the BCS gives more than enough assistance to college athletic programs, stating that the money should be allotted to each player rather than constructing new stadiums or going into the coach’s pocket. Although it seems like a tempting argument, it is a misleading and false claim.

For each team from a specific conference that wins or participates in a bowl game, revenue is given to the individual school as well as split amongst the conference to which the institution lies in. That “fat check” that people claim schools receive is actually not as big as once presumed. University athletic programs do receive financial assistance from football’s BCS system, but not enough to support any wage garnishing. To solidify this notion, only 46 of 300 Division I-A programs are actually stable and give a return of revenue to their schools (University of Alabama is one of a few), making it near to impossible to house a payroll standard.

The same type of logic can apply to college basketball’s “March Madness,” the month where the remaining top 68 teams compete in a playoff setting in the hopes of winning the NCAA Basketball National Championship. Most of this process in selecting teams and scheduling games is done by the heavy hand of the NCAA, which is the ultimate authority in college sports. But the problem people do see in this system is that household-name media brands have a large amount of pull in scheduling the most popular games to be aired on television to give them the biggest bang for their buck. This is where many opposing viewpoints to the traditional notion lie; in the fact that large billion-dollar companies operate college athletics and generate major profits for schools instead of healthy competition with minimal corporate sector intervention.

Although CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports and many other media programs contribute to the generation of finances that add up to hundred of millions and publicity of the intercollegiate sport, 68 teams, let alone 300 athletic organizations will receive a heavy dosage of benefits from taking part in basketball.

Intercollegiate sports notably have their flaws, especially mentioned in football and basketball. There is one solution that has been brought up in order to give student-athletes more of a say in how these sports organizations should be operated, especially since individuals seem to compare such students to “slaves” and the coaches as “plantation owners.” It is a scheme most groups of workers use in order to solidify that their voices are heard but not seen, the proposed idea is none other than an athletic unionization.

This is no new idea though; in 1989 a watchdog on intercollegiate athletics was formed known as the Knight Commission. In 1990 a report was issued to the NCAA recommending that action should be taken in order to prevent student-athletes from abuse by the system and what was then the start of a commercialized sports market. One of their suggestions was that a workers union or coalition should be formed, in the hopes that one day soon to come that these people would be paid a valid wage.

The idea of an athletic coalition is still heavily debated, but especially by lawmakers. The end result in this case was concluded by the National Labor Relations Board, which stated that because student-athletes are not paid workers, but considered “amateurs” in the eyes of the law, they may not be permitted to unionize.

In addition, there is an extraordinary anti-discriminatory mandate known as Title IX which distinguishes that men and women’s sports must be presented as equal in its qualities of how they are to be operated. Why does this affect the probability of wages being paid to athletes? Title IX specifies in short, what happens to one, the same must be done to the other. This means that if salaries are given primarily to men’s basketball and football, all other sports whether they are specific to gender must be given financial payments.

To tie together how the Knight Commission’s suggestions affect Title IX, it would also mean that all college athletics must be unionized as well. This only hurts the cause for a coalition because it is too costly on organizations and may end up in the debacle of college athletics all together.

Title IX and other measures which the NCAA have adopted do in fact give student-athletes more say than people give them credit for. In a way, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has been the so-called “big brother” of amateur sports and is consistently looking in to cases where players and coaches are abused and exploited. Though there are holes in this process, which allow for opportunities where large amounts of money are made, none of this amounts to any free space to which wages may be factored in to the mix.

Surprisingly Title IX does not specify that the amount of money made between each sport must be similar let alone the same. Men’s basketball and football are the two main sporting events that bring in the most revenue for an institution, even as far down as a Division II school. Men’s and women’s tennis, soccer, volleyball and hockey combined do not even come close to the financial impact that men’s basketball and football have in the books. If only two competitions are keeping athletic organizations afloat, what grounds justify that student-athletes should be paid? Absolutely none.

Though there are many strong arguments in favor of salaries for amateur athletes, the underlying factor is that colleges pay extensive amounts of money for the benefit of both the players and the collegiate sports to which they participate in. In addition, laws have been made as well as official monitoring by agencies to solidify that all measures are being taken to keep individuals from being exploited in the fast-paced and sometimes dangerous world of college athletics. Yet there are many holes in the system which these students perform, there will probably never be a place for wages in the mixture. Over the years it could cause more of a problem far from what is intended of the idea.

As college sports evolve through new discoveries in technology and the risky game becomes increasingly publicized, there is one thing that is certain as of now—student-athletes will not be paid.


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