Should College Athletes Be Paid?

March 6, 2010

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One of the most heated debates in college sports is whether or not college athletes should be paid.  Proponents point to the millions of dollars that some programs reap in tickets sales and merchandise.  Surely these schools should pay their athletes?

Today, I’ll make the argument that college athletes should not be paid.

Who Gets Paid?

If you take a step in the direction of paying athletes, one of the first questions is who gets paid, and how much? 

Let’s use football as an example.  Do Tim Tebow and Alexander Robinson (Iowa State running back) get the same salary?  Is there a pay scale based on yardage or some sort of complex formula?  What’s the value of a punter or a long snapper?  When are salaries set?  There are a lot of blue chip prospects who have disappointing college careers – so surely we don’t want to get locked into a pay scale at the time they sign.

Then comes the fun question of whether or not athletes in all sports should get compensated.  Should the backup fullback on the football team get a paycheck, but not the world class decathlete, simply because the football team turns a profit and the track team doesn’t?  What about the All-American volleyball player on a top 5 team?

It’s Not a Profit Deal – Really.

While many individual programs turn a profit, this is true of very few athletic departments as a whole.  In situations where football and basketball make a profit, their profits often make the gymnastics and tennis teams viable.  If football and basketball stop subsidizing these sports, they will likely die on the vine. 

Fielding a competitive team is not cheap.  A football team has 85 players on scholarship – meaning that their tuition, fees, room, and board are paid for.  If you have a child in college, imagine multiplying that  cost by 85.  Then there is the cost of coaches (do head coaches earn their salaries?), facilities, travel, lodging, etc. 

Supply and Demand

Student employees are often paid less than their skills would dictate in a free market.  This is because college campuses are awash in talented individuals, all competing for a limited number of jobs.  This is particularly true with positions that are internships that serve as gateways to lucrative careers. 

And that is precisely the role of an elite college athlete, of course.  Bear in mind that the “job” of college athlete is high desired, not only for the prestige of playing at the college level, but also for its pipeline to the pros.  For every athlete who cracks a college roster, there are many more who never sniff a scholarship – most of whom would gladly play a college sport in exchange for “only” a scholarship. 

These athletes are having their expenses paid while a talented coaching staff attempts to ready them for a career as a professional athlete.  While it is true that athletes are proving value to the university, the university is also providing invaluable services to the athlete.  Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009 baseball draft, owes much of his $15 million contract to the coaching staff at San Diego State.  The conditioning coach at SDSU nicknamed him “Sloth” because he was so out of shape when he arrived on campus.  If you think that SDSU should pay for the services of athletes like Strasburg, should they also be paid by athletes who benefit from the coaching?

Did you find this article interesting?  Then you may like my article that asks whether athletes are overpaid.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Martin Kelly
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 18:24:34


    This does not actually address what you have written, but here it goes anyway. I once suggested a plan when student athletes actually got an appropriate degree. A football player would get a degree in football (thus eliminating the junior and sophomore entrants into the various drafts). This degree would center on football classes, much like an accounting major takes a lot of accounting classes. Their grades would be dependent on performance, just like everyone else in their fields of study. In addition, the student athlete would need to take some “life” courses, such as personal finance, liability, public speaking and social behavior (just look at Ben Roethlisberger from the Pittsburgh Steelers, that boy needs to learn how to stay out of trouble).

    This plan would stop the charade of “Communications” degrees (such as Earl Campbell, former running back for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, who is one of the worst speakers I have ever heard).

    Within your article, you admit that student athletes are already paid in the form of full ride scholarships. If it is truly for scholarship, then it should have some class work. After all, if someone gets an engineering scholarship, he is expected to at least take some engineering classes.


  2. kosmo
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 18:37:37

    (gasp) You want to put the SCHOLAR back in scholarship? Next, you’ll want to put the ship back into it 🙂

    At my alma mater, you actually get credit for participating in a varsity sport (scholarship or walk-on) 1 credit for the 4 years, I think).


  3. Hailey
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 13:30:39

    I agree with this article one hundred percent. these athletes are at college to learn, not to earn money.


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