Pay to Play

The NCAA's compensation system is flawed, but feasible alternatives have yet to come forward


John Corley for The Easterner

Fewer than two dozen of the 350 NCAA Division I athletic departments report a profit, according to sports economist and Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist

By Riley Baker, Staff Reporter

Right now is a very quiet time for college athletics. It is the middle of baseball season, but not a lot else is happening with the school year winding down. What can be talked about and debated, however, is whether or not student athletes should get paid.

Collegiate athletic programs bring in a lot of money, although it is rare for any program in the nation to see profit. It is due to this, and plenty of other variables, that student athletes should not be paid.

Many argue that these athletes should get paid because of their grueling schedule between school and workouts. It allows them no time to get a job on the side to make a little extra money even if they wanted to. While I am not specifically against student athletes making money, the logistics of creating such a system do not add up.

First, athletic programs rarely show any profit. This is a common point made by Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist who has published articles and books on the finances of sports. He says that fewer than two dozen of the 350 NCAA Division I athletic departments turn over a profit annually.

The only programs at most schools that deal with a substantial amount of money is football and basketball. Maybe a few programs could fit it into their budget to pay their players a very minimal amount, but even then, would they be able to pay the players of other sports? And if so, how much?

It would not be a fair system to only pay football and basketball players. It would be fair for them to make more in comparison to other sports, because that is where the majority of the money is made. But to leave out other sports from pay altogether would not be fair. So how should this work?

There is no perfect system. Each proposed idea to pay students will have flaws. But the system currently in place seems to be the most fair. Each side has a give and take.

First, the student. They get to play the sport they love at a collegiate level while getting to attend college for free. They also have access to all the amenities and services provided to athletes like workouts, tutoring, training and physical rehabilitation, housing, and in some instances, parking privileges.

The institutions get to have athletes branding their image. While they do have to give up free education to these students, they are compensated in a product on the field that can bring in money.

That money goes to the athletic department. The athletic department uses the money to provide the best resources to their student-athletes for them to best succeed in the classroom and on the field. It also goes toward other things like coaches, camps and promotional items.

This system works — and pretty smoothly at that.

Another effect it could have, is increasing everyone’s tuition. Because these schools don’t make a profit, they use regular student tuition to subsidize their programs, which means that increasing pay to student athletes would likely directly cause an increase to student tuition.

Not only that, but according to Jeffrey Dorfman of Forbes, the financial pressure this would put on athletic departments would cause them to drop sports that hurt their revenue. So while some students prosper from getting a pay raise, many more will suffer from higher tuition or losing the opportunity to play a sport at the college they were hoping to attend.

The reality is that colleges do not have the budget to pay their athletes beyond what they already compensate them with. They already get a whole heck of a lot compared to regular students. Besides tuition and room and board, student-athletes also receive free coaching, nutritional support and physical trainers.

According to Dorfman, all of these amenities that student-athletes already receive combined, “can exceed $100,000 per year in value.”

At the end of the day, student-athletes are already paid pretty well with what they get. They’re better off than regular students, and paying them any more would throw off the balance between the athletic department and the institution at the majority of NCAA colleges.

Maybe some student-athletes feel like free education isn’t enough compensation for their hard work on the field. But this is where the line is. Are they there to play beyond college professionally or to get a degree?

More times than not, that answer will be to get a degree. Every adviser they will have along the way will recommend them to do just that. That makes the free education just that much more valuable. After all, they are called student-athletes, not athlete-students.