Part I: A Problem Exists
In the past few decades, the debate regarding payment for college athletes has become a pressing issue for higher education, necessitating a deeper look into the consequences of paying college athletes such high amounts for their playing. Currently, the NCAA’s rules and regulations regarding student athletes’ compensation include a no-pay rule; NCAA member colleges are forbidden from sharing revenue with athletes, leaving the payment and budget to go to coaches and faculty (Edelman, 2014). However, the possibility of paying student athletes raises many different arguments. Some argue that the emphasis on athletics in the higher education experience has left other departments hurting for funds, leaving the budget for actual academics lower while athletes are allowed to focus on sports instead of learning. Given the positive effects of a well-funded and compensated athletics program on most universities’ overall budgets, it is necessary to pay college athletes a salary relative to the benefits they provide the university. In short, college athletes work for the schools to drive up enrollment and provide a higher profile and greater funds to the school through their athletics, and should be compensated accordingly through employee status and higher pay.
The issue of college athlete compensation has long been discussed, with accusations that the college athlete has become commercialized and exploited given their privileged status in the global marketplace (Sobocinski 1996, p. 257). Furthermore, many believe that schools should not place as much of a focus on athletics, as it diminishes the importance of academics in higher education – the issue has become a significant issue in the press and elsewhere in the past few years (Mondello et al., 2012). As it stands, there is “a basic conflict colleges and universities in the United States face today: whether participating in intercollegiate athletics distracts from fulfilling their mission of providing education” (Sobocinski 1996, pp. 258-259). College pay is at the center of that debate.
There are three major problems that must be addressed, and can be dealt with through proper financial compensation for college athletes. First, the relative exploitation of college athletes is prevalent, as they are not getting paid commensurate to their utility. Secondly, higher education facilities are struggling to find appropriate cost-benefit ratios in their athletic programs (Kirwan& Turner, 2010). Thirdly, the social stigma of student athletes being paid and socially favored more than academically-focused students causes resentment and controversy in the higher education system (Orleans, 2013).
Economically, institutions of higher learning are having trouble determining how best to fit their athletic programs in with the rest of their budget (Kirwan& Turner, 2010).Studies show that only the most prestigious college athletic programs tend to generate enough money to support the other departments (Desrochers, 2013). Furthermore, revenue tends to get funneled right back into the athletics department, with little trickle-down from the athletics department. However, athletics remain a good source of publicity and community-building, thus making college athletes still important student ambassadors. With the raising of pay and the changing of their status to employees of the university, the expectations surrounding these departments can lessen while still compensating college athletes appropriately.
The most damning problem with college athletes’ compensation is political – there is a popular argument that college athletics increasingly overshadow the academic components of higher education (Mondello et al., 2012). There is a social component to this issue, as well; studies show that black students are twice as likely to support higher payment of student athletes as their white counterparts, likely due to their investment in athletics as a point of entry for academia (Mondello et al. 2012, p. 106). Furthermore, the favoring of athletics over academics creates the impression that some students are more important than others, particularly when they bring in revenue to the institution itself.
In conclusion, the problem of college athletes not getting paid an appropriate amount for their work in the university has many dimensions. Ethically, it is wrong to enjoy the benefits in enrollment, scholarship and revenue that college athletes provide to universities and colleges without giving them reward in turn. Economically, the difficulty in balancing budgets in athletic programs may be stemmed through the introduction of higher college athlete pay (Kirwan& Turner, 2010). Socially, college athletes face resentment from peers and the academic community for focusing the attention and resources from other departments onto athletics, betraying conflicting reasons for attending the university and appearing to take money away from other deserving departments unfairly (Orleans, 2013). In order to address these issues, a solution must be found .
Part 2: Solution to Problem and Advantages
Given the problems inherent to the issue of student athletes and the possibility of pay, an ideal solution would provide the ethical, economic and social advantages necessary to address the problem completely. To that end, the solution to this problem is multifaceted. First, the NCAA should reverse its no-pay laws. Secondly, student athletes should be given employee status, Thirdly, student athletes should be paid commensurate to their utility and value in the team as a commercial and marketing enterprise for the university. With the help of all of these changes, student athletes could be compensated fairly for the work they do for their schools, as well as allow athletic and academic departments to balance budgets and lessen animosity between departments.
Making student athletes paid employees of the university would create an ethical justification for using them so much in their role as ambassadors and viable marketing and fundraising resources for the university. Paying student athletes would also address certain legal issues – currently, Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust act allows NCAA pay prohibitions to constitute wage fixing, which is in violation of antitrust law (Edelman, 2014). The college sports industry’s impressive revenues – in the neighborhood of $11 billion each year – would be equally shared with the student athletes who arguably are the star attraction of said industry (Edelman, 2014). Because of the immense profits that are coming from college sports, it is unfair that student athletes are not allowed to be compensated for their work in making it possible.
Speaking of compensation, the economic advantages of paying student athletes are surprising. While paying out more than they currently are seems as though it would be economically bad, college athletes would have more incentive to play and advocate for their universities if they were treated as paid employees. As the faces of their university, college athletes are ambassadors for their particular institution, driving enrollment, fundraising and overall attention to their college. By permitting them to be paid employees, student athletes would have a greater motivation to act in those roles, thus providing greater results, which would then translate to higher profits. Athletic departments would be able to balance their budgets in a more equitable way, instead of the current inequalities in pay that occur (like head coaches receiving million-dollar salaries for their work while student athletes get nothing) (Edelman, 2014).
Socially, making student athletes paid employees of the school would alleviate some tensions that might arise between athletic and academic departments. Student athletes would have official duties and receive an entirely different status from students of other departments, making clear the differences in expectation between them (Edelman, 2014). While academic faculty and students may still hold resentment against student athletes for having the ability to go to school for playing basketball, and getting paid on the side, the roles and responsibilities would be more clearly delineated. This would reduce the tension that comes from students of equal standing in different departments receiving different treatment; student athletes, as employees, would be beholden to a very strict set of regulations and responsibilities that would make their paid status more sensible to others.
In conclusion, the raising of pay for college athletes (coupled with giving them employee status) would provide a number of solutions for the aforementioned problems. The ethical issue of underpaying college athletes for work that is essentially akin to employee status would be resolved through the elimination of the NCAA no-pay mandate and the employee status they would enjoy. This would also address issues of potential antitrust law violation, which is a powerful legal incentive to pay student athletes. Additionally, the social component of the resentment between athletics and academics would lessen if the employee and ambassadorial role of student athletes were more clearly defined. By making student athletes employees, it would be evident that they are expected to get paid as per their role as people who work for the university. Finally, the economic issue of balancing budgets would be lessened if college pay were higher and shunted to a different ‘employee’ status. The top-heavy pay scheme of athletic departments would be lessened, and the economic benefits of having pay-motivated players would ideally create more revenue than spent in paying them. Given the fact that athletics are big business for higher institutions, they should be treated as such by making them employees and paying them more.
Part 3: Possible Disadvantages, Answers, with Visuals
In spite of the advantages inherent to the establishment of college athletes as employees and paying them an appropriate salary, there are also disadvantages as well.
As students who also serve another function for the school, their role as a member of an educational institution can often be muddled; to that end, it can be difficult to discern where their priorities lie, and what actual level of employment they have with the university. College students are said to not need to be paid as athletes because they are meant to be students first, and are already being paid substantially through other outlets; however, these disadvantages can be answered appropriately in order to make these concerns small.
One social disadvantage is the unclear set of priorities paying athletes would give them with regards to their studies. Students “are not professional athletes who are paid salaries and incentives for a career in sports,” but instead students who use their sports participation as a gateway to an education (Mitchell, 2014). Organizations such as the NCAA favor the keeping of academic standards in student athletes, placing on them more of a burden than simply playing sports for the university would. This would make it difficult to define exactly what they are meant to be doing for the school. However, this would be a relatively small problem, as student workers are paid all the time for everything from office clerical work to scholarship jobs – student athletes would simply have to manage their academics and student employment the same as any other student worker.
Another disadvantage is an economic one: paying college athletes is redundant, as they already receive substantial money through other outlets. By using their sports to ostensibly pay for their education they are making up to $125,000 a year, depending on the institution, in free room, board and tuition (Dorfman, 2013). Furthermore, student athletes get professional coaching, physical therapy, and fitness training for free as a part of their work, adding up the value they receive even further. At the same time, however, this is not completely true for every university, and this decision is often made independently of the university’s faculty and administration. To that end, it is difficult to regulate student athletes pay depending on what they get otherwise. Student athletes’ pay should not be covered in fringe benefits, but be provided in direct compensation, in order to ensure that they are receiving appropriate recompense for their role in the school’s image-building and marketing.
In conclusion, there are many disadvantages to paying college athletes as if they were employees of the university. It is claimed that student athletes would have muddled priorities, as they would be paid by the state but expected to maintain a primarily academic capacity within them. Also, student athletes receive substantial value in the form of free tuition through scholarships and other free training, thus making paying them redundant. However, these disadvantages are inconsequential, as student athletes would simply be treated like any other student worker who must juggle work with their studies, and the university should not let fringe benefits decide whether or not the student athlete has a workable income to reward their hard work. Given the solvable nature of these disadvantages, the proposed solution of paying student athletes should stand.
Burnsed, B. (2012, August 22). Meeting the needs of student athletes. NCAA.
Dorfman, J. (2013, August 29). Pay college athletes? They’re already paid up to $125,000 per
Edelman, M. (Jan 6. 2014).The Case for Paying Student Athletes.US News & World Report.
Kirwan, W. E., & Turner, R. G. (2010). Changing the Game: Athletics Spending in an Academic
Context. Trusteeship, 18(5), 8-13.
McCormick, R. A., & McCormick, A. C. (2006). Myth of the Student-Athlete: The College
Athlete as Employee. Wash. L. Rev., 81, 71.
McCormick, R., & McCormick, A. (2010). A trail of tears: The exploitation of the college
athlete. Florida Coastal Law Review, 11, 639.
Mitchell, H. (2014, January 6). Students are not professional athletes. US News & World Report.
Mondello, M., Piquero, A. R., Piquero, N. L., Gertz, M., & Bratton, J. (2013). Public perceptions
on paying student athletes. Sport in Society, 16(1), 106-119.
Nocera, J. (2011, December 11). Let’s start paying college athletes. The New York Times.
Orleans, J. H. (2013). The Effects of the Economic Model of College Sport on Athlete
Educational Experience. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 6(1).
Sobocinski, E. J. (1996). College athletes: what is fair compensation. Marq. Sports LJ, 7, 257.