No, college athletes should not be paid by the schools for which they play.
And here’s why.
A student-athlete is, first and foremost, a student, and then an athlete. In Division I, the academic and athletic breakdown is 37.3 hours per week and 35.4 hours per week, respectively, clocking in 72.7 hour work weeks. Fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. Most of them depend on academics to prepare for life after competing.
As a former Division I athlete, I competed year-round in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. My days, weeks and quarters centered around practice times and competition schedules.
I juggled multiple part-time jobs, clubs and an accelerated scholars program on the side of a dual degree and competing in Division I athletics, much to my coach’s dismay.
“If you want to be great at this sport, you have to prioritize and focus.”
Morning runs, weights, a nutritious diet, foregoing late nights out and a semi-early bedtime were factors that enabled me to compete at a higher level. My partial athletic scholarship toward my college education alleviated some of the stress from the dwindling money in my bank account and enabled me to hone more of my talent on the track.
Unlike revenue-generating sports such as football and men’s basketball, running isn’t quite there yet. A cross country meet doesn’t generate anywhere close to the income of a Big 10 football game. The home students don’t holler back and forth at cross country meets. Jump Around doesn’t blast through speakers at any point throughout the race courses, mainly because there are no speakers, but also because there are no quarters or half-times, and most importantly, no student section.
I may not have competed in a multi-million-dollar revenue-generating sport. But the NCAA provides student-athletes in both sports with scholarship opportunities to pursue an education, despite the fact that one sport brings in little revenue to the organization, and the other generates millions.
Despite the association’s best intents to keep a level playing field, stars arise. And with these stars, come the added debates of utilizing image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model. On October 29, 2019, the NCAA’s top governing board released a statement “voting unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”
Darnell Autry, former Northwestern University running back, is an example which deviated outside of NCAA’s norm.
Autry led the 1995 Wildcats to the Big Ten Conference Championship, the 1996 Rose Bowl and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting for 1995. The theater major received a call from a Hollywood director, offering Autry a minor speaking role in “The 18th Angel.” He ran with the opportunity.
The decision resulted in a dispute with the NCAA as to whether or not his small part was a violation of NCAA regulations. Ultimately, it was decided he could appear in the film, as long as he didn’t get paid for it. The football stud left Northwestern a year early and was drafted to the NFL in 1997, where he briefly played for the Chicago Bears and later the Philadelphia Eagles. Autry’s experience exhibits a student-athlete who was permitted to pursue an educational and career opportunity outside of NCAA’s guidelines.
In its response to California Senate Bill 206, the NCAA wrote, “the 1,100 schools that make up the NCAA have always, in everything we do, supported a level playing field for all student-athletes.” California Senate Bill 206 would permit name, image and likeness, as well as endorsements outside of NCAA guidelines, eliminating the distinction between collegiate and professional sports as well as the level playing field the organization commits to instill in college sports.
Student-athletes competing at the NCAA collegiate level choose to hit the books and the gym. They choose to prioritize academics first (sometimes, dependent upon the school and the demands of the program), in conjunction with the responsibility and passion of their sport.
And for their commitment on the field, student-athletes are (sometimes, not always) rewarded with scholarships to entice them to work diligently, and give back to the program which invested in them. The cost of tuition is offset, and stipends are allocated for athletes’ other needs.
Out of the roughly $1 billion in revenue it generates, the NCAA’s top allocation of $216.6 million is directed to sport sponsorship and scholarship funds. Another $48 million goes toward the academic enhancement fund, millions more are directed toward other distributions. The remaining allocations benefits other student athletes as well. Beginning in 2019-20, a portion of NCAA revenue will be distributed to Division I schools based on their student-athletes’ academic performance, enticing students to hit the books as hard as the weight room.
This is another way the NCAA is encouraging students to be students first and athletes second, reinforcing the organization’s commitment to fairness on the field and academic excellence in the classroom.
By paying out athletes, would we reinforce a system that detracts from the main point of a college education? Or would bringing in the big bucks entice student athletes on the field and in the classroom to an even greater extent?
This is the first part of SportSpek’s take on this complex, multi-faceted issue. We’ll take a quick timeout, but stay tuned for our multi-part series on the debate behind paying college athletes.