Paying Student Athletes

It was another good year for almost all parties involved. The NCAA itself just barely missed breaking one billion dollars in revenue according to their numbers from the latest fiscal year. Coaching salaries are continuing to boom, with the highest paid – looking at you Nick Saban – commanding upwards of seven million dollars a year. This is also to say nothing of the sizable chunks of cash the schools themselves receive for postseason play, and bowl games. There seems to be more than enough slices of pie to go around, and the dish is only going to get bigger. With new College Football Playoff there will be even more money to throw around. Everyone is eating except for perhaps the most important group in the equation, the athletes themselves.

A lot needs to be discussed before an adequate “pay for play” system could be fairly implemented for student athletes. For starters the title, “student athlete,” would have to be examined. How much of one can a person be before the other begins to dissipate entirely? Historically, the student title has been their primary identifier. But with the massive paydays now available and the lackadaisical workload some athletes are put through to keep them eligible maybe we should dub them “athletic students.”

Exactly how much fair compensation is also needs to be asked. Looking at football it becomes easy to think of college athletics as just this giant beast of a machine spewing out millions of dollars left and right, but in actuality this is not the case. For the most part, other sports aren’t going to break even. Typically football, and basketball/baseball at a few other places of fervent interest are able to turn a nice revenue. How, then, would schools that aren’t making as much money of their sports pay their athletes? In short, they can’t and would be forced to get rid of their programs. In an effort to get compensation for student athletes we would be destroying them. Ok fie, let’s think the NCAA bites the bullet and only compensates sports that turn a revenue. Get ready for the mother of all Title IX problems: there is no way paying boys basketball would fly when the girls aren’t getting paid, especially when both
groups are to be considered students fist and amateur athletes second.

All of the financial ramifications aside, the biggest thing that stands to be lost would be any sense of parity in the world of college sports. Think about the world of NCAA football, the game is already tilted towards your ‘blue blood’ programs. These are the programs with the historical significance, rabid fan bases, and revenues that are higher than the GDP of several small countries. Schools like Alabama and Texas. They typically get the highest ranked players and field the best teams for the reasons
listed above. But every now and then a team with less means will rise to the top – think of Oregon (I’m sorry). If Blue Bloods are allowed to simply pay players to come to school then the rest of the programs can pretty much hang it up. It would be an arms race for recruits, a race in which other schools couldn’t hope to keep up.

Perhaps the elephant in the room most often overlooked in this argument are the other vested parties. The NBA and the NFL both have rules regarding eligibility: one year at the college level for the NBA and three for the NFL, but let’s not pretend that both businesses are not enjoying the free farm system the NCAA has created for them. By the time your college superstars hit the next level they already bring with them fans and accolades, all of which will bring even more revenue to both the NFL and NBA. In essence they have an interest in seeing the NCAA stay exactly as it is.

The traditionalist in me longs for older less complicated days of college sports, but I know that to be an unsustainable model. There is something inspirational about someone who’s balancing school work and then goes out and lays it all on the line for their school just for the love of the game. My view is a bit biased, however. I’m not the one taking the hits or running the courts. The Student Athletes themselves are and will be the ones who ultimately decide the future of pay for play in college athletics.

By CALVIN BROWN / Sports Editor

Found in Spring 2016 Print Edition


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