It’s time to pay college athletes

The main purpose of the NCAA is to make money. It exists to make its schools as much revenue as possible. This explains everything from its reluctance to develop a college football playoff system—even though such a change is so desirable that no less than two branches of government have weighed in on it—to the organization’s silence while conferences threatened to realign and destroy some of college sports’ most storied rivalries.

Our most storied rival currently finds itself butting heads with the NCAA over the same issue: money. Only, in this case, the issue isn’t the amount of money, but where it’s going.

And as surprising as it is, I empathize with the Tar Heels.

While I don’t condone the alleged actions of agent-tampering in the North Carolina football program, the system the NCAA has constructed is the true impetus behind these actions. Because for all the money college football generates— which includes astronomical figures like the $125 million per year it receives from ESPN for BCS broadcasting rights—not nearly enough goes back to the players themselves.

In an attempt to maintain the amateur status of its sports, the NCAA goes to extreme lengths to make sure student-athletes don’t get a penny more than tuition, room and board and a minimal stipend from their institution. It doesn’t matter that many college athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds and can’t afford to live on such a meager income, or that others have no desire to complete their education and view collegiate athletics as a springboard to an inevitable windfall at the professional level. No, the NCAA ensures that athletes who are responsible for contracts like the one recently struck between the NCAA and the World Wide Leader aren’t justifiably compensated.

Think of it this way: North Carolina’s football program pulled in $24,163,760 in revenue last year. Out-of-state tuition is estimated at $22,880 a player. If the Tar Heels have 85 scholarship players on their roster (the maximum allowed by the NCAA), only around $2 million goes directly to the players in the form of tuition.

With these numbers taken into account, it starts to make more sense that underappreciated and undercompensated players might contemplate taking money from agents.

Are these actions by both players and agents illegal and unethical? Yes. But the point is they could’ve largely been avoided with a rather simple policy change that is more ethically palatable than these back alley dealings.

Nearly every other country in the world organizes prep sports in a way antithetical to that of the NCAA. While Americans force a college education down the throats of prospective athletes in order to get noticed by pro scouts, soccer (excuse me, futbol) players in Europe instead make their way up a complex system of prep and semi-pro leagues, many starting when they are still teenagers. These players know their futures lie in athletics and make the choice to abandon their educations for their dreams—something we college students might question, but a reasonable decision nonetheless. What’s more, these players get paid a legitimate, living wage as they make their way up through the ranks, eliminating the necessity of any under-the-table nastiness.

There is the risk that these athletes might get injured and not have an education to fall back on. But as inadvisable as not getting an education is, it is an individual’s decision. He has the right to make it, without having an ineffective governing body forcing them to choose only one path.

Such an organization is more common on this side of the pond than you might think. Our neighbors to the north have a very similar system by which prospective hockey players develop (stars like Sidney Crosby never stepped foot on a college campus). Even in the States, it is acceptable for baseball phenoms to go right from high school to the minor leagues.

So why do we refuse to adapt a similar situation for our most beloved sport, football? Money.

There’s no reason to completely scrap college football and adopt a semi-pro system. (Truth be told, thinking of Michigan Stadium empty on a Saturday afternoon makes me tear up a bit). But the NCAA can take a hint from these other systems by giving players their piece of the pie.

Award players a reasonable stipend—one that must be uniform across schools, or at least conferences, to minimize recruiting imbalance—and allow them to go pro whenever they desire, and the problem of agent tampering would diminish overnight. Players who feel they are ready for the pros (accurately or not) could bypass the college system completely if they desire, while others who still need to develop their skills or want an education could mature in a collegiate setting while supporting themselves and their families.

Plus, college athletics’ governing body would take the first step to eliminating its sullied image.

It could be an NCAA first: A logical, win-win decision.


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