Extra Points: Why College Athletes Should be Paid

Last week, I wrote a column arguing that the NCAA should pay college football players, not only to minimize the influence agents and other seedy activities have on the integrity of the game, but also to justly compensate the players that are responsible for hundred of millions of dollars in NCAA revenue.

Predictably, the response was less than supportive.

And to be honest, I expected nothing less: the idea of paying college athletes is about as inflammatory and controversial as they come.  But amidst the sometimes vitriolic emails and comments, there were many legitimate challenges to my proposal. And thanks to the wondrous invention that is blogging, I can address some of them here and now.

One of the most common complaints I received is that despite the fact that college football is a revenue machine, very few athletic departments are actually profitable (this very blog reported that only a few weeks ago). The money from college football, many of you argued, goes directly to supporting sports that do not necessarily produce revenue (like the field hockey, for example).

Now brace yourself—I agree.

Generic Script

To be quite honest, I wasn't nearly as clear about this topic as I would've liked to be in my column—the constraints of print can do that to an industrious and long-winded columnist. I recognize that revenue from football fuels other important sports and I wouldn't dare suggest to sacrifice other sports just so higher profile athletes could get paid. What I meant to imply in my column—and obviously failed to do so—is that the NCAA should be the major provider of the proposed athlete stipend.

With the ludicrous figures the NCAA earns from the BCS and NCAA Basketball Tournament, there's no reason a reasonable percentage of that couldn't go back to the people who make the events possible—the athletes.

The second most common objection I heard was that it would be unfair to only pay high profile athletes like football players when athletes on non-revenue teams put in just as much effort. Once again, I agree—I believe all collegiate athletes should receive some sort of stipend. The fact is, being a NCAA athlete is a full time job representing one's university and mere tuition, room and board doesn't is not fair compensation for an athletes time and effort.

But don't ask me what exactly the stipend should be or whether it should be uniform across all sports—that decision would, and should, be made by people infinitely more informed than I.

Finally, many of my own friends argued that there would be no guarantee that a stipend would minimize interference by agents. Once again, they're right (its amazing how many Duke students are smart). Since this has never been tried, I have no data to support my argument here—only my intuition and what I perceive as common sense.

But even if the stipend wouldn't minimize illegal activity, think about it strictly from the point of view of fairness—college athletes can practice as much as 20 hours per week. Factor in classes, homework and other university related commitments (press conferences, charity outings, etc.) and their "workload" easily would reach 40+ hours a week. Yet these players earn a miniscule percentage of the revenue they bring into their schools and essentially none of what the NCAA earns off of televising their labors.

Imagine it this way—Duke gives you a full scholarship, but you are also required to TA Organic Chemistry labs and recitations for 20 hours a week. Furthermore, Duke requires you maintain a high grade point average or else they will not only take away your scholarship, but kick you out of school. And for each week you TA, the school pulls in a million dollars in revenue as a result of your labors (students are apparently paying a pretty penny to take Orgo), but you only earn approximately $2,500 from your scholarship, room, and board.

Wouldn't you be griping? Wouldn't you maybe tutor a student for some under the table cash?

And if all this doesn't convince you—and believe me, I fully realize that very few of you are with me on this—just think about this. Six years ago, The Chronicle's Mike Corey wrote a similar column arguing why college athletes should be paid. Take a look at who seems to be on both of our sides—no other than Mr. Duke himself, Shane Battier.

I rest my case.


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