Sports Illustrated

As the college football season begins, it’s also time to once again open the age old question: should college athletes be paid?

There has been quite a bit of debate on the topic, especially recently. Ed O’Bannon made a splash just under a year ago when he sued the NCAA in an anti-trust class action lawsuit (one which the Supreme Court declined to take). What there has not been much of is action. Putting aside for a second the more emotional pieces of college athletes and salaries, it is helpful to look at what college athletes are really giving up to pursue their sport.

Athletes give up an enormous and sometimes exorbitant amount of time and control. This is no secret. Many schools tell their athletes that they have to be at their practice and workouts and the “student-athletes” have to schedule their academics around that. For many student-athletes taking certain majors, especially in STEM fields, is simply not an option if they want to keep doing their sport. Even if that major is where their interests lie.

On top of relinquishing some academic control, sports end. Not only do sports end, but no one ever knows when they will end. An athlete could easily be injured in their next game, next practice, even in a freak accident off the field and never play that sport again. There are some athletes, even those who are recruited, who come to school and don’t play.

So they are putting four years of work for their team, not getting on the field or floor, and at graduation might have to graduate with a degree that they didn’t love or wasn’t best for them. That is not fair.

This isn’t taking into account the enormous revenues the NCAA and schools are making from student athletes. Literally millions and millions, if not billions of dollars a year are made on these athletes across sports. To not cut the people who are responsible for that money in is inequitable to say the least. Again, I do get it. People can say bringing money into college sports will spoil the purity of it, the relatability of the athletes as students.

Athletes already have many advantages. They can gain admission to a school they might not have without the sport (though I would argue this is the same as a violinist gaining admission because they play violin, or an artist because they can draw well), they often have access to tutoring, and athletics in college grants a lot of social capital. But what about the student who’s not going to get drafted to the NBA or NFL? The benchwarmer? The one who is injured? The one who won’t make millions of dollars after college.

In other words, the majority of the athletes who are making huge sacrifices and aren’t in the spotlight. It’s not just the superstars, but the behind the scenes heroes that deserve the safety net of a salary.

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