Why College Athletes Should Get Paid

I was stunned by the results of a recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll. Apparently, 64% of people oppose paying college athletes. Only 33% support it.

I’m guessing those 64% buy into one of the two arguments repeated ad nauseam for why college athletes shouldn’t get paid. I disagree with both.

The first is that college athletes already get paid. They receive full scholarships to attend college. This adds up to around $200,000 over four years of college. When so many kids are forced to take on student loans that take decades to pay off, why do college athletes need to be paid more than they already are?

I get why people feel that way. $200,000 is a lot of money. But if a star athlete generates millions of dollars for his school, he’s worth more than $50,000 a year. If capitalism is the best system we have to work with, and I think it is, why not allow a player to be paid what he’s worth? (I took Econ 101 last semester, so when it comes to the economy, I know everything).

In effect, the NCAA has set a maximum salary of zero dollars on anything above the athlete’s scholarship. A player can’t receive more than this amount, whether it’s from the school, an endorsement deal, or an expensive dinner.

In any other industry this would seem strange. We don’t set maximum salaries for lawyers or doctors or construction workers. Some professional sports have maximum salaries, but players are allowed to earn as much as they can off the court. In general, when someone produces something of a certain value, we say it’s OK for him to be paid whatever that value is. (The exception being the former Soviet Union. They tried something else).

In 2013, Kansas University received $174 million in alumni donations. The athletic department’s revenue totaled $93.7 million. Men’s Basketball games averaged around 16,000 fans per game. The university signed coach Bill Self to 10-year, $50 million contract extension in 2012. A lot of money flew around.

It seems to me that if Andrew Wiggins helps get KU on national television, sell thousands of jerseys, generate alumni contributions, and put thousands of people in the stands, he should be paid more than $50,000.

I find the second argument a little more offensive. It goes something like this: Student-athletes should be students first. They’re amateurs. They’re kids. They’re better off not being paid.

I’m not a fan of this argument. It boils down to: we’re not paying you a ton of money for your own good. I think that’s both paternalistic and disingenuous. It’s paternalistic for the NCAA to tell legal adults they can’t earn the money they’re worth because the NCAA knows what’s best for them. It’s disingenuous for the NCAA to pretend it’s motivated by concern for the athletes’ well being, and so it has to, you know, keep all the money.

The recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board granting Northwestern football players the right to unionize summed up the hypocrisy nicely:

“[I]t cannot be said the Employer’s scholarship players are ‘primarily students.’ The players spend 50 to 60 hours per week on their football duties during a one-month training camp prior to the start of the academic year and an additional 40 to 50 hours per week on those duties during the three or four month football season. Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies.”

I’m not sure what exactly the ideal system would be. I’ll let the lawyers draw that up. But the way things are being done right now isn’t fair. Count me in the 33%.

photo credit: proforged via photopin cc


4 thoughts on “Why College Athletes Should Get Paid

  1. Former collegiate division I athlete

    First of all are you a student athlete and what makes you an expert about the economy in regards to completing Econ 101. I have been a CFO for years now and have never claimed to be an expert on the economy especially after competing economics 101 my freshman year of college. Although you make two compelling arguments I would have to disagree with everything I worked hard for and reaped the benefits of while playing a collegiate sport at the highest level. You are given so much more than just $70,000 a year. Those that are complaining they don’t have time to eat or study is a complete lie. You are given every resource in the universities power to help you succeed as a student athlete first, but only if you are willing to take advantage of what they offer to you. They also have study hall and meals given to you each day from different restaurants. Full athletic scholarships provide much more than just tuition and room and board. I am furious that this would even come up as an issue. When will it ever be enough? You should read the letter of intent before signing it and committing to attend a university that is offering a free from debt lifestyle and education. Those athletes that choose to continue on and play professionally is a wonderful accomplishment and it will be greatly rewarded. At that time they can rest assure that they will not have any debt going Into their new life and career. What will then happen to the sports that do not generate that type of revenue for the university? Will they be paid equivalently because title 9 will argue and start to come into play. If those sports teams are paid a salary and do not have a new and improved professional team to go to after their sporting career, where will they go? Since we are saying that these athletes are not students first. Will the university just take care of them forever just because they signed a letter of intent, committing to play for and represent a university to first get a degree and secondly create opportunities for potential careers. We have lost focus in regards to a growth process and how valuable a degree will be to these athletes after they graduate. For example, if an athlete moves on to a professional career and has a career ending injury, what will happen to them without a degree? Will Obama take care of them also??

  2. Vince Gilbert


    Really Econ 101 and now your some kind of expert in economics I don’t think so!!

    Have you ever played collage sports or do you just watch them ? I have and know that student athletes get so very much for free or payment in trade, food at sub and 7 nights a week at local rest. schooling, one on one tutoring, gym membership at the Universty gym, medical bills, nutrition class and specialist. Less than .7% of the athletes go onto to play pro. The premadonnas that want or think that they should get paid should forgo the collage level and go straight to the pro level. People like you will ruin all collage sports for everybody that uses this as a way to pay for collage and get a degree that can be used for the rest of there life!
    Hearing the kid Napier from UCon stating that he goes hungry most nights is a dam joke and makes himself look like a idiot for all people that know about the perks of being a collage player on all levels all sports.

  3. Jack Fischl

    I think it’s funny both of these comments begin with questioning James’s authority on economics. His little aside about taking Econ 101 was a clearly a self-deprecating joke.

    Also, does James have to be a college athlete himself to have an opinion about this? He is a consumer, which is ultimately the most important party in this whole equation.

    1. Vince Gilbert

      Yes is does matter!!!!!
      To have comments about the issues. He has no idea what collage players get for playing the game and a huge joke that players are “starving” is so ridiculous!!!!! I hope they all get paid and then we will be watching games and players like the NBA. The most boring thing on T.V. until the playoffs .


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