Everyone loves March Madness, and few things are more exhilarating than watching two powerhouse college football programs go head-to-head on the gridiron. Thanks to lucrative contractual agreements CBS and Turner Broadcasting made over $1 billion in advertising revenue from March Madness last year. The LSU vs. Alabama game typically has over 20 million viewers each year and the combined population of the two states is less than 10 million people. The Texas Longhorns football team generates over $14 million each year just from the branding and licensing of their trademarked logo. The NCAA represents a multi-billion-dollar sports industry that has completely engulfed college athletics. Until the pandemic the NCAA was averaging over $1 billion in revenue annually.
Whose backs are bearing the burden of all this heavy weight money? Coaches, assistant coaches, athletic directors, team doctors, trainers and the maintenance crew are all getting paid. Should NCAA athletes be paid as well? Athletes are taking all the risks and they are producing all the value. Some would argue coaches are stars too but they are not running routes on the field or getting into position to take a hard charge in the paint. Others would argue that athletes are already getting paid with scholarships and an education. This is a very valid point, but can we be honest for a moment? Very few truly elite athletes are completing their college degrees, especially in college basketball. The stars in each sport are moving on to the NBA and the NFL as soon as they are assured of a decent draft status. Shaquille O’Neal is one of the very few millionaire athletes that went back to college and completed his degree after being drafted by the NBA. He is the exception to the rule. Once these amateur athletes transition to the professional level and “Get Paid” they are typically done with college.
All the above is focused solely on the elite stars in each sport. The vast majority of college athletes are not going to the NBA or the NFL. These athletes always seem to be left out of the discussion when it comes to whether college players should be paid. They somehow manage to balance their schedules, excel in their sport, and complete their degrees. If we were to pay college athletes, would we only pay the top tier performers, or would all the athletes get paid? Would the lacrosse team get paid at the same rate that the basketball team did? Would the quarterback get paid more than the linebackers? Why stop at college, why not pay high school athletes? These are impossible questions and college athletics was never meant to be a free market economy.
Elite college athletes risk a career ending injury every time they play. However, if they perform well some of them will move on to extremely lucrative professional careers. Many of them would not get this exposure without athletic scholarships. Yes, they are taking all the risks, but they also have everything to gain. The greater the risk the greater the benefit and landing an endorsement deal with Nike, Reebok or Adidas only comes with notoriety. This notoriety comes from playing for a major program in a major sport. None of this would be available to them without a college athletic scholarship. Paying college athletes would make a bad situation worse. More money would mean even more parasites preying on these young athletes.
If anything needs to happen the money trail should be more transparent. Where is all the money from football and basketball going at these major institutions? What of the thousands of elite athletes not playing in a major sport? Are we going to pay the shot putter or the college volleyball team? They toil in obscurity and yet they are still sacrificing for a game or sport they love. Let us make sure we look at the big picture and realize that participating in college athletics is a privilege not a right. If you’re goal is to make it to the NBA or the NFL you’d better have a back-up plan in case you don’t. Getting further compensated by the university you attend is not a back-up plan; completing your degree should be!
Charles Barkley recently stated, “Education, to me, that’s my biggest gripe. When these people on television talk about who should get paid or not … I get sick and tired of people telling these young kids getting a free education is nothing.” His point is that education is not taken seriously by many high-level college athletes. Barkley goes on to say, “You gotta a better chance to be a doctor or a lawyer than playing in the NBA. There are 400 players in the NBA. What are the chances you are going to be one of the 400 players in the world?” The priority should be education but how can it be with millions of dollars at stake? Only 75% of college football athletes complete their college degrees. Can we focus on making sure the remaining 25% get their degrees?
Of the almost 10,000 players in college football each year only 300 will get drafted into the NFL and only a portion of those will ever play on Sunday. Making sure all scholarship athletes graduate should be the priority for every institution. Paying them to play because they risk injury is not a valid solution because it ignores all the other athletes that will never play professionally. The goal for every student that enters college should be to complete their degree not springboard into the NFL or the NBA. Yes, many college athletes are exploited but paying them will only exacerbate the situation. Let us not ignore the thousands of college athletes that play just for the love of the game and the honor of representing their school. Let us make sure the millions being made are going to better the education of every student athlete whether they are receiving a scholarship or not.
References for “Should NCAA Athletes be Paid?”:
“College Revenues and Expenses” – espn.go.com
“Shaquille O’Neal Graduates From College” – abcnews.com
“How Colleges Exploit Athletes” – nypost.com
“Should NCAA Athletes Be Paid?” – usnews.com