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Student athletes; to pay or not to pay?

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Sports

October 28, 2011

Should student athletes be able to collect payment for their athletic skill when their teams earn millions of dollars in revenue and publicity for their respective schools? This is a recurring question. Paying athletes may be the popular view but I honestly cannot see why and absolutely disagree.

It’s easy to argue that student athletes should get paid. They help earn their school revenue from ticket sales, merchandise and even national publicity if their team makes it into AP or ESPN’s top 25 teams in a given week. Also, there is the money the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) makes by licensing athletes’ likenesses for the “NCAA Football” game series or the discontinued “NCAA Basketball” series. Additionally, it has been argued that paying student athletes could encourage some, especially the most talented, to stay in college for their full eligibility and complete a degree before entering the draft and trying to go pro. “South Park” even had an episode on the topic, “Crack Baby Athletic Association,” which goes so far as to suggest student athletes are treated as nothing more than slaves by the current system.

This week the NCAA announced plans to push for a $2,000 grant for student athletes to “more closely match” the full cost of attending college. Other than that, student athletes have little chance at employment during the school year due to the time commitment of classes, studying and training.

I will concede that being unable to work during the year to the same extent as other students might shortchange student athletes. But to say that student athletes, especially in Division I or Division II schools, which give athletic scholarships, do not receive any compensation is pure lunacy. Aside from the occasional full-ride scholarship, which could account for thousands of dollars at some schools, student athletes also can receive access to academic resources that aren’t available to all students. For example, at some schools members of the football team are required to spend two to three hours on weeknights in organized study sessions. Part of being an athlete requires they commit to their academic coursework in a controlled, supervised environment. At other schools, people are hired to tutor athletes personally to help make sure they do not become academically ineligible. Even more so, student athletes are intended to be amateur. Yes, there is a desire for excellence from student athletes but paying them would only further the idea that while in college they are already professional. If an athlete is making money because of their athletic skill, is that not making the athleticism into a profession?

Even at Division III schools like Brandeis, or at Ivy League schools, where no athletic scholarships are given, student athletes are shown to be students first and athletes second. At Brandeis, as far as I know, student athletes do not receive any kind of perks or special resources. I applaud the fact that our student athletes are able to find the balance between academics and athletics on their own because paying student athletes would effectively make them athletes-taking-classes instead.

“Walk-on” athletes make the issue slightly more complex. They are athletes who try out and make a team without first being recruited or offered a scholarship. They put in the work but do not receive any of the monetary benefits awarded to athletes recruited for their skills. While this complicates the matter, it does not derail my stance that student athletes should not be paid. Student athletes, including walk-ons, still get the same resources that the average student does not receive at the schools that provide resources. The only thing a recruited student might get that a walk-on student would not receive would be an athletic scholarship.

Colleges and universities should not exploit student athletes. But by not paying students athletes, schools are not engaging in exploitation. Student athletes are students first and athletes second. Especially at Division I schools, student athletes have access to resources that serve as compensation for the work. Can anyone really say that an athlete is exploited if they get a full-ride scholarship? I think not.

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