The Argument Over Whether or Not College Athletes Should Be Paid

 It is a known fact that college sports generate billions of dollars for schools, networks, and corporate sponsors. Everyone involved is making money off of college athletics except the athletes, the people that make the entire industry possible. There is a current debate going on in the sports industry that has college sports fans heated in regards to the push for getting college athletes salaries. 

To start off, let’s look at where all the money is going if not to the athletes. I’m going to give you a scenario: On a Sunday afternoon, Michigan is set to play its rival Ohio State for a shot at the national championship. Some 107,000 fans are in attendance at an average ticket price of $141, and thanks to a $2.6 billion contract, the game is airing on ESPN on one of three networks linked to the Big Ten conference. All the players are wearing Nike on every piece of clothing because of a $200 million deal with the brand, including the two head coaches who have $5.7 and $8 million dollar salaries. A big part of this money distribution among the league is the coaches. More than one hundred D1 coaches earn over $1 million per player, and in forty-one states the highest-paid public employee is a college football or basketball coach. In fact, the top three  paid public employees in the country are Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, and Jim Harbough, all college football coaches. So with all this money floating around college sports, people believe that surely the athletes are able to benefit. Well this is where it gets controversial.  

Some people argue that college athletes are getting paid – scholarships. But scholarships are not salaries. Now yes, some one-in-a-million allstar college athletes receive $2.9 million in scholarships which in theory is a form of pay, but most athletes can only dream about that. 

The average athletic scholarship is roughly $18,000, which doesn’t cover out-of-state tuition and fees at most public universities or the total cost of attending a private university, which means that most college athletes on scholarships are not receiving a full ride. In fact, only about 1% do. 

Additionally, there is a whole other side to this – apparel and merchandise. Apparel companies are making millions off of the names of top athletes, so when Nike sells an $80 Clemson jersey with Trevor Lawrence’s name and number on it, shouldn’t he get a cut of the profits? Well California seems to think so. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law in 2019 allowing athletes in the state to sign endorsement deals with brands, the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act. The newly proposed act would allow student athletes to unionize and earn money off their likeness, name, and image and it promises to be one of the most expansive bills yet in getting athletes officially recognized as employees. 

To put everything out on the table, I am going to lay out both sides of the argument. Why some think college athletes should be paid and why some think they shouldn’t. 

Why some believe they should be paid: They rake in cash for their schools, they give their schools valuable exposure, playing a college sport constitutes a full-time job based on the amount of hours a week athletes dedicate to their sport (on average 35), sports take away from their studies, athletes need spending money, and the potential for injury makes compensation a must since an injured athlete could lose their scholarship. 

Contrastingly, why some believe athletes shouldn’t be paid: They already get scholarship, secondary sports could suffer because finding the money to pay the athletes might involve taking it from sports that bring in less revenue, determining salaries could get messy when deciding position vs position and if a coaches child plays on a team, rich universities would benefit the most, and it could take away from the love of the game.  

Regardless of the fact that the execution of giving college athletes salaries could be messy and difficult, the overwhelming consensus among fans is that it would be worthwhile. They believe that students who dedicate more time to their sport than their studies ought to receive fair compensation, especially if their name and number is being printed and sold by huge companies. There are billions of dollars swirling around college athletics and everyone is benefiting except the athletes, which is thought to be unfair and shows some toxicity of the industry. Now whether you support college athletes receiving salaries or not, it is definitely clear that the college athletic industry has some cracks in it that have yet to be patched. 

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