The pay in play: Should National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes earn salaries?


The Tower (Princeton, New Jersey)

Yes: They need the money to sustain themselves

By Henry Greenburg

When arguing against wages for college athletes, everyone uses the same argument: “they are getting paid by receiving a free college education.” But, these so-called “student athletes” at elite sports schools often aren’t even getting an education.

Just a few years ago, the University of North Carolina was found to have created fake classes for their athletes to enroll in, so that they could focus more on the “athlete” part of the “student athlete” life. Obviously some schools are outliers and have extremely high academic standards for athletes, but those schools, which are often Ivy League schools, rarely send kids to the NBA. Duke, Kentucky, and Louisville, for example, have top basketball recruits attending for one reason: to play in college for a year, and then go directly into the NBA. Kentucky is commonly thought of as the team that started this trend of “one and done,” which refers to players using college as a one year speed bump on their path to the NBA, as players can no longer go to the NBA straight from high school. So, they really aren’t benefitting from a free education.

These players need to get paid with real money in order to survive for this one year of college before they go to the professionals. Most players come from poverty, like John Wall, who used basketball to escape his poverty-stricken neighborhood in Raleigh. They do get money for food, but it almost never is enough to feed a massive athlete. In the 2000s, the NCAA uncovered a scandal in which University of Miami football players were caught receiving money illegally from a booster. Reflecting on the incident, most players said that they don’t regret it, because they needed to take the money to survive. They didn’t have enough money to afford a substantial amount of food, and one player said that he just needed the money to buy diapers for his baby. They don’t need to buy a sports car or a mansion; they just need enough money to get over the one year speed bump before making millions in the NBA.

While the NCAA makes over a billion dollars per year off of advertisements, the players who wear their logo make nothing. Even if their salaries are miniscule compared to their future NBA contracts, college athletes need to make some money in order to live healthy and responsible lives. The NCAA can afford to give up some of their billions of dollars to help out these student athletes.


graphic by John Liang

No: Salaries would reduce scholarships

By Alan Gu

Currently, NCAA student athletes are not paid by their schools or by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and it should absolutely stay this way. Paying student athletes would play a huge role in eliminating their opportunities to play their sport collegiately in the first place.

According to Max Strachan of the Huffington Post, The NCAA argued that paying athletes would likely lead to a significant reduction in the number of scholarships they are able to offer.  Many argue that paying student athletes would allow athletes who come from low-income households to pay for college living expenses.  However, this pay would result in a large reduction of scholarships, and thus make it impossible for many of these hopeful college athletes to even get a chance to go to school due to the high cost of tuition. Jon Solomon of CBS sports states that with wages many players would get paid less than they currently receive in financial aid.  Paying college athletes could actually backfire financially, and would in turn go against the whole point of paying them at all.

This likely reduction in financial aid and scholarships could have far-reaching consequences.  Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of the Washington Post quantifies that students who lose more than 10,000 dollars in aid are 28 percent more likely to drop out.  Only about two percent of college athletes go professional, so they need a degree to fall back on.  An institution of wages and a reduction in aid would only make it less likely for athletes to get their degrees.

If NCAA student athletes start to receive wages, they will still be at a financial disadvantage and will not get the most out of their education. This is why the NCAA must not pay college athletes.


graphic by John Liang

Yes: Athletes deserve to be compensated

By Parsa Salsali

NCAA athletes should be paid, because it is simply what they deserve. College athletics bring in billions of dollars in revenue annually to universities across the nation, and while athletic scholarships do exist, according to Lynn O’Shaughnessy of CBS, only about 2 percent of high school athletes end up winning a sports scholarship to a NCAA university. This is devastating for the other 98 percent of college athletes, especially in bigger conferences, as they spend an average of 50 hours a week on activities related to their sport, in a recent analysis done by Penn Berland of CBS, and receive no financial compensation.

Although some may argue that these athletes are being compensated with an education, the time commitment to their teams decreases their time commitment in the classroom, which is why Paul Steinbach of Athletic Business concluded that Division I student athletes have a 32% lower graduation rate relative to their peers. Looking at every other industry in the United States, people are paid based on their contributions to the business; these students athletes have brought in nine billion dollars according to Cork Gaines of Business Insider annually, so it’s only fair to compensate these athletes based on the revenues they are generating for their universities.

Even for the 2 percent that do end up winning a scholarship, a wage is still better than an athletic scholarship. Scholarship money is never actually received by the student, and just goes straight back into the institution. This means that students who need the money to support themselves or their families don’t have the ability to control where the money is headed. An article by Tamar Lewin of the Times confirms that one of the biggest reasons for students to drop out is that they have a trouble supporting themselves while being enrolled in school. Paying student athletes would remedy this issue: Richard Borghesi quantifies that if players were paid for their market value, most players would be entitled to salaries of at least $21,000. But, even if student athletes were paid the minimum wage, $15,080, it would still be more than the current NCAA scholarship, $10,400 . Those thousands of dollars saved would be huge for student athletes who wouldn’t have to take out additional student loans, which plague 40 million Americans, according to Jillian Berman of MarketWatch.

It’s just the right action to take for the athletes who work countless hours, and aren’t even compensated a single penny.


graphic by John Liang

No: Salaries make college unaffordable

By Rehan Haneef

College athletes should not get paid because of the higher maintenance costs that come with these wages. According to Richard Borghesi in the Applied Economics Journal, paying student-athletes would cost anywhere from $21,000 to $799,000 per athlete depending on the player’s market value. Such payments would likely raise the cost of maintaining a college’s sports team.

Now is not the time to raise costs. With many colleges questioning whether or not to even keep their sports teams and when, according to Patrick Harker of the New York Times Opinion section, 90% of them not even turning a profit, higher institutions would be put in a bind if athletes were paid. Paying athletes would most certainly increase the cost of the various sports teams and clubs at universities. This would result in the potential cutting of many teams from universities, an action that the University of Delaware and several other schools have already taken.

To raise money, colleges might be forced to do what Ohio University has done and increase the general tuition for students by thousands of dollars in order to finance the higher athletic costs. Paying the few students who play for sports teams isn’t worth it if it comes at the cost of the rest of the student body. Even a minor rise in tuition would have significant adverse effects on students, forcing them to take either out more loans and rack up debt, or not attend college in the first place.

Alternatively, the higher costs that come with paying players might also force colleges to cut funds from non-revenue sports. While basketball and football are extremely profitable,   according to John Shipley from the Pioneer Press, most other sports in the NCAA, such as golf, baseball, and swimming, are cash-strapped and in most cases do not turn a profit. For these sports, paying players might take away from funding for other important expenditures, such as athletic scholarships which have traditionally been earmarked for kids in need to get access to a quality college education.

Regardless of which way it plays out, paying athletes would hurt the rest of the student body, and isn’t worth the price.

Photo Credit: Caroline Tan

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