For better or worse, sport is now a prominent part of the college life. Budgets, funding, and social life all center around sport, and the athletes become the face and image of their respective universities. Athletes, despite all the branding, do not receive a salary like professional athletes. Since sport becomes a massive university undertaking, this raises a few questions about what exactly these campus legends should receive. Should student athletes be paid for their efforts for the university, or is our current arrangement sufficient?
A photo used on MGOBLUE.com, Michigan’s sport website.
There are many things to consider when addressing this question. First off, athletes do receive a form of payment while they are at their university: big athletic scholarships. Sure, these scholarships are very difficult to get and maintain, but our best athletes are privileged to not pay the tuition of the university. Their pay isn’t deposited into a bank account, but by playing a sport for the school athletes effectively “earn” thousands and thousands of dollars in tuition and room and board fees. This is even more important to keep in mind as college costs rise more each year; a full ride in 2020 will be worth a lot more than a full ride was in 2000. So, as the debate over pay rages on, we need to think of if athletes should be paid more than what they are already receiving in financial aid.
Athletes work very hard for their scholarships and grades. A typical day of an athletes involves hours of workouts, classes, and then homework at night. Their schedules are jam-packed. Sure, there is an eminent question of whether or not athletes are held to the same academic standards as other students (for example, this CNN article on illiterate athletes), so let’s assume for the sake of argument that they are and athletes must truly earn the grades they get. Then, with this extreme amount of work every day, do athletes deserve a salary? I would argue no. While their efforts for sport and academia are admirable, I don’t believe this constitutes a salary because athletes receive so many other perks.
Athletes receive plenty of other bonuses that are invaluable while at their universities. For example, the New York Times reported that schools have begun to create entire departments devoted to helping athletes succeed academically. A single tutor can cost a college student $50 or more, but these athletes receive four or more tutors. Is this not in itself a form of pay? Athletes also become legends at their school. Sure, fame comes at a price, but this sort of idolization and love certainly comes with its upsides. In addition to admiration, athletes are very well taken care of medically and some even receive medical insurance through the university. Sports often deliver devastating injuries, and not having to pay out of pocket for medical procedures is certainly a nice perk.
After graduation, though, some students continue to be marketed. As I mentioned before, athletes become the face of the university, and after they graduate are still sometimes used. Furthermore, the NCAA makes advertisements and video games that continue to make money once the athlete graduates. The question then is, if the athlete already graduated, do they deserve pay? This is exactly the premise of the Ed O’Bannon trial. O’Bannon argued that since he was no longer a student athlete, then he deserved some compensation for the use of his image in video games. Here I would agree with O’Bannon. After graduation, the NCAA’s rules against compensation no longer apply. The rules are written for student athletes, and once an athlete receives his diploma, he is no longer a student. Therefore, if his likeness is used in a game, he should at least need to sign away the rights to his image or receive a compensation for its use.
O’Bannon’s likeness as in the video game.
There really is no simple answer to the question of whether or not student athletes should be paid. My answer to the question would just be “depends”. As an undergraduate, I would say that athletes receive enough from the university to justify no salaries. However, post-graduation is in more of a gray area. Each case needs to be analyzed separately, so it is difficult to give a general answer. This is just the way I see it, though, so I would love to hear your opinions in the comments below.