A few weeks ago I talked about the college requirement for some pro athletes. In short, the National Football League and National Basketball Association, specifically, require some college attendance to those who seek to play in them. Today I am going to examine what happens when those athletes are forced to attend college and the potential hardships they face. Today I will examine the question of whether or not college athletes should be compensated for their services.
This issue has been around for quite a while with no real major developments other than it being brought to national prevalence. The reason for this is that this issue is perhaps one of the most complicated ones in all of sports. There are many conflicting ideals and groups and the answer may not be so clear cut as to receive a simple “yes” or “no”. So, in order to fully understand this issue, we must first look at the history behind it.
The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) formed in the early 1900s as a way to standardize rules and regulations for college athletics. This changed in the 1950s due to the emergence of college football as a large television market, and it was the first big influx of money into college athletics. To make a long story short, the NCAA assumed more control over its member schools and began to regulate college athletics beyond the rulebooks. As a result of the rapidly increasing revenue of the NCAA and individual colleges and universities, certain groups of athletes began to ask if they would be getting a share of the money that they had helped earn. What happened next was perhaps one of the greatest instances of framing in human history.
To combat workers compensation claims, the director of the NCAA in 1964 coined the term “student-athlete.” By manufacturing this term, the NCAA could frame the issue such that the athletes were viewed as “students first, and athletes second.” They claimed that since these were students and amateurs, they could not be paid. In fact, they were actually already being paid in the form of an education. This strategy was massively successful, as can be seen by the fact that this is the very same argument we are having today. In 50 years the stances of the two sides have not changed.
The argument for paying players is rather simple, they are the ones bringing in the money yet they see none of it. In fact, they can’t even profit off their own name according to NCAA rules. Additionally, the “student-athlete” model is a facade that can easily be broken down by taking a closer look. A Division I football or basketball player spends nearly 40 hours a week (in season) in practice, which means that their status as athletes is essentially a full time job. To have a full time job on top of school and homework is not an easy thing, and when so much pressure is being put on them to win in their respective sport, their role as a student takes a sort of back seat. And to the argument that these athletes are being paid with an education, many football and basketball players never wanted to go to college in the first place, yet they were required to. Additionally, while many football and basketball players are given stipends meant to cover their costs of living, they are often not enough and the fact that many of them come from poorer families means they can’t cover the difference. In short, these players seem to be forced into a system which requires them to work without them being compensated (in their eyes).
The argument against paying players can easily be written off as rich people wanting to keep their money. And, to a degree, it’s hard not to view it in this way. However, some of the arguments against paying athletes do speak to valid concerns. But first, we must look at the illogical arguments that many people make. First off, an argument is often made that it would be a logistical nightmare to pay athletes. This is some Class A bullcrap. Just because the alternative is hard doesn’t mean its okay to deny a person their rights. The fact is if a group of people deserve to be paid, you can’t deny them it on the basis that it would be too hard. Another largely invalid argument is that paying athletes would ruin the “integrity” of college sports. First off, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of integrity involved in making billions off the backs of unpaid kids. But, looking past that, the amateurism to which this integrity alludes to is really a construct created by the NCAA. The notion that the athletes (namely in football and basketball), play for the love of the sport is a little misconstrued. Many athletes are also playing because they are being forced through college before going pro and making their money. So while I’m sure many athletes are playing for the love of their sport, they are also playing for their future payday.
Now, moving past this there are some legitimate concerns about compensating athletes. First off, would big schools gain an unbeatable advantage over small ones based on their ability to raise money? I sure hope not. Coming from a big school, I know Penn State might benefit from this, however it seems like it would ruin college football to create a system where athletes go to the highest bidder, and the highest bidder is only ever one of a few schools. Also, what kind of values are we instilling if athletes choose universities based not on their ability to educate, but on the size of their wallets?
So, while I do not believe the current system is fair, I’m not sure that paying college athletes is the right way to go. I think the solution rests on two actions. First off, professional leagues (actually just the NFL and NBA) need to invest in developmental leagues. The NBA needs to get rid of their age requirements for their D-League and the NFL needs to create some sort of minor league. This would allow the few athletes who are good enough to play straight out of high school (refer back to the previous post if you have issue with this). More importantly, this would ensure that the athletes who do go to college truly value their education as opposed to being forced into it. Secondly, the NCAA must allow their athletes to profit off their own name. No other student in America would be kicked out of college for agreeing to be sponsored by a product, yet for some reason this rule applies only to the people it matters most to. The NCAA and the schools shouldn’t be allowed to profit off the players if the players themselves can not.
While this issue is incredibly complex, and difficult to fit into one blog post, I do hope I’ve done some justice and shed some light on it. If you have a different viewpoint than mine, feel free to share it! While perhaps my idea is not the absolute best one, I do believe that something has to be done. The fact that no major progress has been made in the last 50 years is appalling to me. We need to resolve this issue and we can’t keep pushing it back.