Sports and the University: Who Should be Getting Paid?

When thinking about college athletes, we usually think of star football or basketball players- the people you would see on TV.  However, these athletes make up only a tiny fraction of college athletes.  In fact, most large universities, like the University of Michigan, have hundreds of student athletes who never make it on TV, never have a fan base larger than their family and close friends, and never generate any revenue for the school.

As seen in “Dispatches from NCAA’s Deathbed,” whether or not college athletes should be compensated for their work is a major issue in our society.  To begin, one important thing to think about is: which athletes, if any, should be paid?  Some college athletes, like former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon generate millions of dollars a year for their school.  However, they are in the minority.  Like I said before, there are many other sports, particularly women’s sports, that don’t generate money at all.  Do these athletes still deserve to get paid? Probably not, but don’t they work just as hard as the other athletes? Who would decide who gets paid or not?

Lets just say that the NCAA decided to start paying college athletes a salary based on the amount of money they generate for the University.  That sounds fair, doesn’t it?  If that were to happen, all sorts of issues about fairness, gender, and equality would arise.  In Mika’s chapter, he discusses how “no women’s sport is what the universities call a revenue sport- that is, a sport so popular that its paying spectators make it a major business.”  Women’s sports simply don’t generate as much revenue as men’s sports, but does that mean that they shouldn’t get paid the same?  Additionally, paying college athletes would change the entire concept of college athletes being “amateur” athletes.  According to Trollope, athletes excessive identification with their sport is an issue, and paying athletes might add on to the problem.  Coming up with a fair system to allocate money to student athletes would be incredibly difficult and complicated.

University of Michigan women’s volleyball

Another issue to think about is, if college athletes were to be paid, where would that money come from?  Many people point fingers at the NCAA, but the reality is, the NCAA is just an organization comprised of the colleges themselves.  Think about it this way: at the University of Michigan, qualified, hard working students are paying between $25,000 to $55,000 a year (depending on if you’re in state or out of state) to attend this school.  Many athletes are given free tuition on top of less strenuous academic standards.  So on top of that, they should be getting paid in addition to get the value of the education at a substantially reduced rate?

Additionally, it’s important to note that in many states, coaches are the highest paid public employee.  These coaches are paid millions of dollars to recruit and train players, so they’re essentially capitalizing off the players talent.  Tyson Hartnett also discusses this issue in his blog, saying “These coaches will receive bonuses for getting to the playoffs, winning championships, or breaking school records. You know what athletes receive as a bonus? Nothing.”  Some may argue that the players are receiving invaluable help and knowledge from these coaches, who could be helping them pursue their dreams as professional athletes. While this is true, isn’t it also true that college professors are “training” their students to be professional [insert profession here].  I believe that college coaches are extremely overpaid, which takes valuable money away from the university that could be spent elsewhere.

Nick Saban, from the University of Alabama, currently the highest paid college football coach.

So after all of these conditions, we go back to the original question: “Should college athletes be paid?”  Although I do not believe it is right to give student athletes a salary, I also don’t believe it’s fair for the NCAA to capitalize on an athlete’s image without giving them any of the profits.  Athletes do not need to be paid simply for playing, but they do need to share some of the profits off of their merchandise and likeness.  Ryan Jeanes, from Texas State University shares this view, saying “With large portions of merchandise and ticket sales solely purchased because of the players on the field and not the team brand itself, players should be entitled to a part of the profit universities make from them.”  Last year, the retail marketplace for college licensed merchandise was $4.62 billion, and the athletes received none of that.  Even if athletes received only a small percentage of this, it would make a huge difference for them, while still allowing the universities and NCAA large profits.

When it comes to sports and the university, it’s often times difficult to create a balance between academics and athletics.  However, I believe that with this solution, athletes will receive the compensation they deserve, no substantial burden will be placed on the university that could detract from academics, and there would be a fair system in place to determine which athletes should be paid.

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3 thoughts on “Sports and the University: Who Should be Getting Paid?

  1. I understand your argument, but by simply compensating collegiate athletes based on their merchandise and likeness would simply create a capitalist system with college athletics. Keep in mind, these athletes are at school not to make money, but rather to learn and refine their skills so they can be prepared for life outside the University. Thus, by compensating athletes based on jersey sales and likeness, you are creating a system of extreme inequality on campus. Moreover, you are encouraging athletes to promote their own image rather than that of the team, something I believe is fundamentally in opposition to the idea of amateurism that is so essential to college athletics.
    -DJR

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  2. I agree with much of what you said, especially your thoughts on the uproar that might occur if certain student athletes were paid more than others. I also think your insight about how much college football coaches make, compared to the fact that athletes make nothing, is thought-provoking. However, I do not believe that having athletes compensated for their “merchandise and likeness,” would be an appropriate solution. Many athletes will be going on to play professionally. In the NFL, for example, a player does not simply get all the money if someone buys a jersey with his name on it. The NFL actually shares the revenue from merchandise and splits it up amongst all of the teams. This is fair, and it makes sense. There would be such a large disparity in the amount of money made amongst players, if they were compensated for merchandise sold. A very popular player would most likely make much more money off of sheer merchandise than another, less well known player. In world of college sports, this would also apply to each team, and more broadly, to all college athletics. Furthermore, the lesser known teams would again feel slighted by the fact that they were not compensated as well as teams with larger notoriety. There would be no fair or equalizing way to to this, unless the NCAA took all of the profits from merchandise and likeness and split them up equally amongst every single student athlete. This would probably lead to marginal profits for the individual athletes.

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  3. I agree with your statement that “women’s sports simply don’t generate as much revenue as men’s sport,” because I think women sports aren’t talked about as much at the university. For example, football Saturday’s are a big deal in Ann Arbor. Students and fans will tailgate and attend the game regardless of who they are playing. Do people make a big deal about the women’s volleyball team? No, they don’t! I just think the university relies on the football and men’s basketball team to generate money, and pay less attention to women sports in general. Overall, I don’t think the athletes should be getting paid money directly but I do believe there should be some alternative so they can make extra cash while representing their school.

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