Should Student Athletes be Paid?

Growing up in Austin, Texas, I was never quite able to jump on the professional football bandwagon as my city lacked its own professional team. Also, as Austin is home to the University of Texas, the Longhorns were the center of our sports world. As a long-time college football fan, even today, names like Todd Gurley, Marcus Mariota, and Bryce Petty are far more recognizable to me than those of many NFL players. I doubt I stand alone in my preference of the NCAA over the NFL, and for this reason the compensation of student athletes has been of specific interest to me.

In particular, the opinion of Allen Sack, a former University of Notre Dame football player, sticks out to me. Sack has joined the fight in favor of the compensation of student athletes, understanding that there is no simple solution to this dilemma, but with the belief that the current system should be changed. His  opinion is published by New Haven University where he currently teaches Management of Sports Industries. As a former college athlete and now a well-respected professor with an expertise in the business of sports, Sack has the education, the stature, and the credibility to be able to speak up on behalf of the athletes, and also to be hear by the NCAA. Without his voice advocating in favor of student athletes, they could be easily overlooked.

College athletics is a booming business in the United States, however its employees continue to be exploited by schools and the NCAA to make billions of dollars a year. There have been many solutions presented to compensate the athletes for their time, but the NCAA has yet to take action towards resolution. When it comes to paying athletes, there’s no question that any system instated for compensation would still have many flaws. However, keeping the current system in place, a system in which universities are able to capitalize on the talent of their student players for profit of their own and not for the players themselves, is unfair to these athletes. Under newest NCAA regulations, universities now give their scholarships out on a year-to-year basis, as opposed to originally offering a full degree scholarship when the NCAA first approved the presentation of athletic scholarship. This means that athletes can be released at the end of a season, even if their eligibility has not run out. These new rules, where athletes can be “fired” for injuries or sub-par performance, show exactly how far the NCAA has gone to profit from the production of their athletes. Sack says, 

“During the past four decades, the NCAA has crafted a payment system that provides a relatively cheap and steady supply of blue-chip athletes for the burgeoning business of collegiate sports and gives coaches the kind of control over them that employers have over employees. It is little wonder that a recent survey of college athletes by the NCAA found that the majority of those polled identify themselves more as athletes than as students.”

So, if these student-athletes are only attending their respective universities to be athletes, why shouldn’t they be paid? They are treated as employees, but do not receive a salary.

One of the solutions Sack has come up with to attempt to compensate these athletes for their time commitment is allowing them to use their own name as a brand. It isn’t fair that an athlete’s jersey can be sold at the campus bookstore while the athlete who wears the jersey cannot even afford to purchase it himself. In an episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 The U that really hit home with me, Michael Irvin, a then wide receiver for the University of Miami, remembers a time when he could not afford to buy himself dinner, but his jersey was being sold for over forty dollars in stores on campus. Sack believes,

“Scholarship athletes should be able to endorse products, accept pay for speaking engagements, and get a cut of the profits universities make by marketing their images. They should also be allowed to have agents to help them plan their financial futures.”

I believe that Sack’s proposed solution is the answer. Let’s look at the benefits that the talent of 2011 Heisman Winner Robert Griffin III brought to Baylor University; small, and relatively unknown to the college football nation before this time. ESPN reports:

“According to Baylor, Griffin’s Heisman win has resulted in a 10 percent rise in giving to the Bear Foundation, while licensing royalties — the take the school makes on stuff it sells with the Baylor brand on it — are up more than 50 percent. Baylor athletics has set a Web traffic record and, most importantly, plans for a new $250 million stadium were finalized soon after Griffin’s Heisman win.”

Because the prowess of brand name “RGIII,” Baylor “estimates the Heisman win was worth $250 million in extra donations, increased ticket sales, licensing fees, sponsorship deals, an expanded deal with Fox Sports Southwest, and higher corn dog sales.” And because the prowess of brand name “RGIII,” he himself was rewarded the erection of a statue in his honor in Baylor’s new stadium – but absolutely no piece of the monetary remunerations Baylor University received.

It doesn’t take an expert to decide whether or not you think the current system for college athletes is fair. With Sack advocating for student athletes, I believe that very soon, steps in the right direction will be taken. In my opinion, it is no longer a matter of “if” something will be done in favor of paying student athletes, but it is a question of “when.”

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