Should College Athletes Be Paid By Their Schools?

By Bryce Buchmann on February 12, 2014

In the era of Johnny Football and NCAA video games it’s easy to see a reason why student athletes should start getting paid. Playing for a college team takes incredible talent and intense dedication. While universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA make millions from these players’ performances, students are compensated with scholarships worth much less than the contracts resulting from their skills. With the amount of money being generated by college sports, many people argue that not paying the athletes for their work is unfair and must be changed.

But while scholarships don’t add up to the amount of money that someone like AJ McCarron brings in for his school, calling that a problem of fairness is to ignore the value of education and forget the purpose of college sports.

Photo Courtesy: / Malik Smith

It’s almost irresponsible to call student athletes unpaid. As Jeffrey Dorfman wrote in an article for Forbes, college athletes are already paid up to $125,000 per year. Aside from tuition and fees, athletes are usually provided with tutors, trainers, nutritionists, doctors, and dozens of other minor conveniences which are easy to overlook.

Of course these things are easy to overlook when millions of dollars change hands, but what shouldn’t be overlooked when talking about college is the value of education itself.

Sure, many student athletes go to college purely with the intention of playing professionally, but that shouldn’t tell us that giving them the opportunity to pursue a degree isn’t worth something. Some people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to graduate from a university, and that’s with the knowledge that their education may help them make millions someday. A college education is worth far more than the dollar amount it’s given.

Someone like Johnny Football probably doesn’t take into account the value of education when looking at his college career. But current students and others who have paid for college should look at this as his loss or even as proof that he doesn’t need to be paid during his time on campus – a place where education is the purpose.

Because less than 2% of student athletes will go pro, overlooking the benefit of getting an education paid for is something most college athletes shouldn’t do.

Another football player from Texas A&M, Von Miller, makes a great example of how student athletes can profit off of their time in school.

Miller studied poultry science at A&M and attracted the attention of USA TODAY last year by starting a chicken farm on eight acres of property near Dallas. He spends most of the year playing football for the Denver Broncos, but in his free time Miller wanted to take advantage of what he learned in college.

“I really wanted to get to the fundamentals,” he said, “getting back to raising chicks.”

Miller’s endeavor may come as a surprise, but his financial and personal gains will hopefully soon demonstrate how college life can do more than impress NFL scouts.

But does refusing to pay students demonstrate unfairness on the part of universities who make money using their names, numbers, and performances? To call how colleges benefit from sports unfair is to disregard the purpose of college and collegiate sports. Universities maintain athletic programs to draw attention to their school, to promote the brand in a way. Money earned at college sports venues goes into the betterment of the university itself, something that benefits all of the students and encourages future students – both athletes and not – to go to the university. With college athletic programs intended to bring people to the school, they have no obligation to pay the people who already chose to attend – and did so without expecting compensation.

College sports teams are not sweatshops where owners refuse to pay them. Every student athlete makes a conscious decision for themselves that they want to play for an amateur team. Many do this with the idea that they will eventually sign million dollar contracts, but regardless of their plans for the future they should not be treated differently than any other person pursuing a college degree.

Some people argue that students intent on playing professionally probably don’t care about their college education and don’t see a degree as necessary or even helpful to them. The idea behind this argument seems to be that if someone doesn’t put any value on a university education, then scholarships should not be treated as an acceptable form of payment. But considering the main purpose of a university and the value that college education has to most people, this does not sound like the proper approach for university leadership. Let the athletes pursue their dreams, offer them incentives to come to your school, but turning college life into a profession with no educational value is absurd.

Many people have and will continue to profit off of the talents of amateur athletes, and those athletes won’t see a penny of that money until after college. If an athlete tells me he feels unfairly treated by this, I will point out that millions of people around the world go to college – and pay for it – without seeing a return on their investment for many years. College is for education, improvement, and requires dedication just as sports do. If a college athlete wants to make money before going pro, he should look into finding another job.


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