NCAA Athletes: To Pay Or Not To Pay?


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By Jordan Leibowitz

We all love watching college sports. Much of our time throughout the year is dedicated to obsessively watching college football, until college basketball captivates our hearts through the end of the thrilling tournament rightfully known as “March Madness.” We are enamored by the tremendous amount of talent, effort, and passion displayed in each game, no matter a team’s final result, nor a player’s statistics.

There are 446,000 student-athletes competing at Division I, II, and III programs in twenty-four different sports at colleges and universities around the country, and they demonstrate the same commitment that compels us to watch college sports. Division III athletes do not receive a scholarship, but the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) spends $2.9 billion in scholarships for Divisions I and II athletes every year. Scholarships are awarded to athletes by coaches and restrict the player from receiving money of any kind from sports while under a scholarship. Some schools do reward athletes financially for receiving a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  

Despite all of this, there is one question that continues to loom over our beloved past-time: Should these athletes get paid? The NCAA’s restriction on athletes receiving any money during their college career continues to be controversial. The NCAA does have a valid point in not paying athletes and continuing the amateurism of college sports.

Cam Newton, currently with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, when he played for Auburn University. Photo credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

The NCAA, as well as several individual universities, profit primarily off of a few star players on their men’s football and basketball teams. These players are the household names who often go on to professional careers in the NBA and NFL. There are other college athletes who are representing the university beautifully in both the classroom, and in competition; however, public demand and interest for their sport are just simply lower. Athletes are being compensated for their hard work by scholarships that pay for a significant portion, if not all, of the expenses associated with attending college.

Allowing colleges to pay athletes would worsen the product, because players would seek higher salaries from the schools with the most money. This would force us to witness the same schools always having the best team, year after year. The aspect of fair play would be drained out of the sport. This would cause many fans and programs to feel helpless as they watched their team have no hope of winning, simply because of a financial disadvantage.

There are thousands of athletes who play sports that are not under the spotlight everyday and who don’t play for high-profile basketball and football programs. However, they all have a story just as powerful as the athletes that are grossing millions of dollars for the universities.

The Westminster College Men’s soccer team, a Division III team. Photo credit: Roisen Granlund.

In the 2014 college football season, the NCAA grossed $3.4 billion, while NCAA womens field hockey made no money and actually cost the NCAA $820 million dollars in 2010. Additionally, only a few college athletes in even the high-profile sports are truly making money for their school. Usually, these players are superstars who are going to make money playing professionally in the near future.

The NCAA offers a path for student-athletes to realize their dreams in sports that go beyond the competition venue. Athletes such as James Madison University baseball commit Travis Reifsnider (‘18) hope to use the opportunity of playing in college to prepare themselves for their lives ahead. Reifsnider says he wants to “Strengthen my values of hard work and learn how to better structure my time” during his experience as a college athlete.

The recruitment process has always been at the focal point of this debate because that is often the area where violations of NCAA rules occur. Each sport has slightly different guidelines that programs must follow in order to prevent intrusions into the lives of players and families.

A recent scandal involving several colleges, most notably Louisville University, has reopened this debate. Louisville University was forced to fire legendary men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino due to a recruiting scandal in which a coveted recruit, identified as Brian Bowen, accepted money from Adidas as compensation for playing at Louisville.

Collegiate varsity football coach Mark Paylo played college football as an offensive lineman for the University of Richmond in his younger days. Today, he coaches several young men who are going to participate in NCAA programs and has experience with recruiting from the aspect of both the player and the program. He described the Louisville situation by saying, “It’s pretty unfortunate that both… Adidas and Louisville resorted to those means to compete at that level.”

NCAA basketball coach Rick Pitino. Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

The NCAA is still gathering information and has yet to decide on a punishment for Louisville and its basketball team, but it is sure to be severe. The NCAA may find out that Louisville is one of many schools where this has happened. hHowever, they are likely to receive severe punishments to serve as a warning sign for other programs. While Bowen did receive money, he was mistreated because both Louisville and Adidas compromised his future, knowing he was going to accept the offer.

Bowen is likely to finish college after his freshman year, as many talented college basketball players do, because the NBA restricts players from entering the NBA draft immediately after they graduate high school. Bowen may not get a degree or the life experience that comes with a college education. Bowen is in a rare, enviable position because his natural talent and dedication to basketball have opened the gateway for a career path that will not require any of this. Despite his potential NBA future, Bowen’s college decision is going to significantly affect his future. Many college basketball players have seen their NBA draft stock plummet because they chose the wrong college program, costing them millions of dollars.

Brian Bowen. Photo courtesy of Bowen’s twitter (@20tugs).

The NCAA has been ridiculed by players past and present for not compensating the athletes from whom they profit. However, the impact that playing a college sport can have on the typical athlete goes beyond money. Paylo described the impact of college sports on his life as, “[It is why I] settled in Richmond, Virginia. I no longer reside in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I grew up.” While many universities make a significant profit from a few sports, the money they are making is primarily from athletes who will play professionally. The college is compensating the player in scholarship money, which provides the player with an education that will hopefully enable him or her to find a career path of his or her choosing.

College athletes are being compensated through of their scholarships. While the schools do benefit more than the players do financially, it is up to the athletes to work as hard as they can in the classroom in order to benefit as much as they can. Paying NCAA athletes would also give some schools a competitive advantage over others, while also forcing athletes to make a poor decision based on money that leads to unhappiness in their college years.

About the author

Jordan Leibowitz is a junior at Collegiate.