Play for Pay

football-557565_640Individuals choose to attend major colleges and universities across the nation for various reasons. Some seek higher education, while others desire to find passions and refine various skills one may use to find a professional career upon graduation. While attending these major institutions, students get involved in a variety of extracurricular activities ranging from student body government, research teams (public and private), school clubs, work (part-time and full-time), and collegiate athletics.

Over the course of the last couple decades, collegiate sports has dramatically grown in popularity, influence in the community, and interest across the nation. This rise in popularity has seen the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its 1,121 institutions (major colleges and universities across the nation) benefitting from the billions and billions of dollars in revenue produced from the influence of NCAA sports. The problem is, the student athletes responsible for the billions of dollars in revenue are not receiving their fair share of the “pie.” Witnessing the influence Division 1 sports has on the entire landscape of higher education and understanding the trajectory of where it is headed in a few more years, student athletes deserve to be compensated for their participation in collegiate athletics.

As the NCAA continues to grow its brand across the nation, respective schools constantly seek to further develop their athletic departments with a sole desire to increase revenue brought into the school. The most recent national headline involving collegiate athletics highlighted Under Armour, a company on par with Nike in the sports fashion world; inking a $280 million shoe and apparel deal with UCLA. Bill Plaschke of LA Times caught wind of this deal, known as the greatest financial deal in NCAA history, and wrote “The events in Westwood on [May 24, 2016] simply mirror what has happened across the nation since the beginning of the college sports boon: An athletic department got rich on the backs of its athletes, who did not.”

In reviewing the current reality of the NCAA and the trajectory of where college sports is heading in a couple years there is a growing sentiment among the mass public that is calling for reformation in the NCAA rules supporting the idea of “pay for play” for its student athletes. Although student athletes are currently receiving tuition scholarships, meal plans during the year, some limited shoes and apparel in their respective sports, and in some cases relatively small stipends. Contracts like the UCLA – Under Armour shoe and apparel deal, the NCAA’s $10.8 billion television deal to nationally televise their events (recently signed in 2014), and multimillion dollar deals looming on the horizon in the near future for other institutions it signifies one thing: The NCAA and its members (institutions) will be guaranteed a giant paycheck now and in the future. So what the NCAA and schools are currently doing now is not enough, more must be done to adequately compensate student athletes for their contributions on and off the field.

Where one stands on this issue largely depends on where one sits. The message the NCAA so diligently tries to sell the mass public is that its institutions of higher learning, where student athletes “choose” to attend, are completely devoted to nurture them into young men and women starting with the foundations in the classroom. Those opposing compensating student athletes will point to the core foundation the institutions are attempting to preserve in amateurism. However, their actions and the current reality that is paramount across the NCAA landscape offer a glimpse into their true intentions. The culture the NCAA promotes, the schools that recruit the student athletes, and the communities influenced by them encourage individuals to “care for their own.” Meaning, individual student athletes see their faces on NCAA billboards across the nation, witness their jerseys being sold on NCAA approved websites and team stores, and even see their likeness on nationally televised commercials and popular sports based video games and receive no compensation. When student athletes do try to benefit from their own likeness and their own performance on the field, they are reprimanded for breaking NCAA rules. I am not promoting a change in the rules of amateurism simply because there are a number of student athletes breaking certain amateurism rules. Rather, pay to play needs to be implemented in Division 1 athletics because the actions of the NCAA and its institutions are promoting a culture and environment in which allows for such an idea to come to fruition. They will continue to point back to student athletes are amateurs and that they come to their institutions to receive an education. However, those arguments and points of references no longer hold the same amount of weight they once did a couple of decades ago, especially when former student athletes and current college advisors are coming out to fight the system currently in place.

A recent article written by Lottie L. Joiner was published in NBC News highlighted the inner workings of collegiate athletics. The article brings to light many red flags within the NCAA’s institutions. Many colleges and universities recruit their student athletes by promoting false hope and promises. Will Collier a former student athlete and a recent academic coordinator for the men’s and women’s basketball programs at UCLA stated, “These guys are told a false truth and it takes them years to figure out they squandered one of the greatest opportunities of their life.” They entice young men and women that if they come to their school and play sports for them the school will devote many different resources to ensure they will be prepared for life after college. For a number of the student athletes, they seek to enter Division 1 sports with the hopes of developing over the years to one day play professionally. Student athletes seek to make a living for their families, provide for their extended families, and secure various skills that will translate into a career upon leaving the college environment. However, only 2 percent (approximately) of student athletes will be drafted into professional sports and earn a paycheck playing sports for a living. So that means the vast majority of student athletes who devote their 4 or so years playing collegiate sports will not reap any financial benefits from their participation in playing sports at such a high level. Financially compensating these student athletes will not change their lives, it may not be enough to directly support their families, or support them in their endeavors in life after college, but it may serve as an adequate form of compensation for their 4 years of “work.” The development of life skills, learning from life lessons, and a community to eventually network with will be positive takeaways from a student athlete’s time in college. These cannot be monetarily measured, however when it is compared to the millions of dollars a coach will make and the billions of dollars revenue the NCAA continues to benefit from it is an absurd argument. Student athletes across the nation deserve to be treated accordingly for their “work” throughout the school year, their performance on the field that brings in the revenue, and the devotion they have displayed by representing the schools in which they attend.

The rapid rise in the culture of collegiate athletics is quickly entering a new era. A recent groundbreaking case regarding the NCAA made its way to a federal court. The Ed O’Bannon v. NCAA case illustrated the changing tide in the fight for compensating student athletes. “A federal judge issued a groundbreaking decision last summer when she found that the NCAA broke antitrust laws by preventing universities from sharing broadcast and video game revenue with top-division football and men’s basketball players.” The aftermath of the O’Bannon case ruling in favor of student athletes has led to various institutions recently reforming their compensation of student athletes. However, the institutions are still reaping the benefits of the vast majority revenue. More must be done.

As the fight for compensating student athletes continues to gain steam, there are many different individuals giving many different ideas on how to adequately pay student athletes. Joe Nocera of New York Times offers an interesting idea on how pay for play might be implemented. This idea definitely has its flaws but it focuses on the idea that pay for play will soon go into effect. Compensating student athletes by implementing a revised salary cap based on certain aspects from professional sports might find a way to benefit the student athlete, the institutions, and the surrounding communities. The athletes will be given a base salary, the institutions will still be able to recruit the best athletes and participate in the high performance games, while having the opportunity to see the revenue brought in positively impact the entire community of the school.
College athletics is at an all time high and it will only continue to rise in popularity and influence as we enter this next generation. Through various avenues, the NCAA and its members will continue to benefit from the billions of dollars in revenue. Certain rules have recently been reformed and steps have been taken, however further action is needed to adequately compensate student athletes for their “work” and receive their “portion of the pie.”

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2 Comments to “Play for Pay”

  1. Maybe the solution is to remove the professionalism from collegiate sports. If an athlete wants to become a professional, they should go directly to the pros after high school. Elie tennis players or golfers go to college if they are interested in an education, but they usually don’t play sports for that college. They play sports as a professional. Collegiate sports should be for amateurs who do so to augment their college experience.

  2. I agree with Dennis. They are held at a much higher standard and who is to say academically they are even up to par. We hold college sports at such a high standard and out academics second.

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