Opinion: It’s time to begin paying college athletes

Nolan Turner
Oxford Stories

In the world of sports, a heavily debated topic is the slow, but steady push towards NCAA athletes being a paid a salary in addition to their scholarship.

In previous years and decades when this theory was discussed, the NCAA quickly dismissed it. The argument to the NCAA board was simple. These athletes are playing an amateur sport at a university and are being paid to attend a four-year school.

However, this is merely half the story.

While it is a gift to be paid to attend a university, the level of play at a Division I, or even higher at a Power Five school (the five largest collegiate athletic conferences), is very similar to a professional sport. To put it into perspective, consider the magnitude of a college football game.

In an article from TIME,reporter Sean Gregory estimated nearly 100,000 fans in attendance at the 2015-16 season opener for Texas A&M football.  Furthermore, in that football season alone, the A&M home football games generated approximately $86 million for Brazos County, where Texas A&M is located.

This money is being raked in by large colleges and college towns that are bringing in fans from all across the country.  The significance of all of this is that, while it is apparent college sports seem to be a catalyst for revenue, not a single player is being rewarded for their part.

NCAA revenue was over $1 billion in the 2016-17 athletic season, according to ESPN writer, Darren Rovell. While a decent chunk of more than $100 million of that overall revenue is spent on insurance, approximately $560 million is scattered to schools across the country based on their athletic programs’ performance. 

Where all this money goes is the key discrepancy. There is a clear surplus of money brought in based upon these student-athlete performances. Yet, all the money goes to facilities, coaches, and equipment. This is inherently creating a better lifestyle for these players, yet their lifestyle demands further payment.

A recent commercial that began airing in February of 2019 showcased “a day in the life” of a NCAA student athlete. The commercial began with the player waking up, going to class, then practice, and seemed to depict an average college life. 

After the commercial, outrage ensued on the popular social media site, Twitter. Myles Turner, Torrey Smith, Alex Caruso and many other now professional athletes took to Twitter to highlight the inaccuracy of this video that made headlines the day after being released.

Many attacked the commercial because of the extreme ease the actor possessed, explaining there is more hardship in a day in the life of a true student athlete.  It has become an assumption and general understanding that playing a college sport is much like a job now to the players, requiring multiple workouts and practices a day, study sessions, and public events resulting in little to no free time.

Now, more than ever, all arrows point to paying college athletes. In fact, Joe Nocera, in an article penned for The New York Times, proposed how to do it.

Athletics generate more revenue than any other department on a Division I campus.  A college athlete’s commitment to their sport is more significant than a nine to five job on most days during the season, and the NCAA realizes an absurd amount of money every year based upon these athletes.

While many people find paying college athletes is justified at this point, there is still much to be discussed about which athletes get paid and how much they should be paid. Gregory suggested using the revenue-sharing model of the NFL.  Based on that model, each player on the Texas A&M football team would make a yearly salary of $225,000. 

This is perhaps too high, as it is suggested players should be payed well-enough to live normal lives, but not so much as to achieve a celebrity status.

Nocera suggested a salary cap with Power Five conference football teams capped at $3 million while men’s basketball teams were capped at $650,000.  This would equal out those student-athletes making roughly $25,000 in salary while also permitting them to accept money for endorsements and other private deals. 

This model, however, neglects other student athletes. Some believe all student athletes should be paid rather than just the football and basketball players. However, when looking at the breakdown in NCAA revenue, it is clear men’s basketball and football contributes roughly two-thirds of the yearly total NCAA revenue. It seems only fair to compensate those players the bulk of the money. 

Nocera further recommends the formation of a student athlete union because of the suggested salary cap, making it a very similar model to professional sports like the NBA, NFL, and NHL. This instillation would keep college athletes hungry for pay at school longer, creating a possible surplus in revenue for the NCAA that has demonstrated they are fiends for the money.

The previously conceived notion that college athletes are being “paid” in the form of a scholarship is simply outdated. Athletes are working harder than anyone on a college campus and bringing in exponentially more revenue to the school and NCAA, yet receiving no profit for their efforts. 

Therefore, with a well-organized plan for regulating student athlete pay, it is possible student athletes would not only be getting what they are due, but that the NCAA could also benefit from a salary cap on college sports.

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