|The Case for Paying College Athletes
Like many, March is one of my favorite months of the year. Why? March Madness! I am a huge fan of college sports, particularly football and
basketball. Recently, a friend asked me whether or not I thought college athletes should be paid or at least given a stipend. I had to think about
it. As I began to read more about all of the different opinions floating around about the topic, it began to dawn on me that the NCAA makes
billions of dollars annually from the blood, sweat and tears of the athletes and the athletes receive very little, if anything in return.
In his book titled, “Indentured,” by Joe Nocera, he argues that college athletes are no more than indentured servants. Nocera further postulates
that there are three separate issues with the NCAA as it relates to college athletics. The first is that athletes are promised an education.
However, many athletes who come to college on full rides don’t always leave with a diploma in hand. Secondly, the rules surrounding amateur
athletics are punitive, particularly if you are poor or African American. And finally, college sports earn over $13 billion annually. While coaches
and administrators pockets are getting fatter, the student athlete continues to struggle.
More and more people are beginning to believe that just the promise of an education is not enough of a reward for college athletes who
generate billions of dollars for the schools. In a recent Seton Hall Sports Poll, 53 percent of the respondents said that television revenue
detracts from the academic goal of a university. In this scenario, the dollar bill becomes the bottom line; not what’s in the best interest of the
student athletes. In addition, an increasing number of people feel that college athletes are being exploited by the NCAA and do not share the
fruits of their labor.
Peyton Barber, a former Auburn University running back, left school early to pursue a career in the NFL. Last year, he was signed as a free
agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for $450,000. Barber’s story was recently featured in an episode of Vice on HBO called the “The End of
Amateurism.” Barber explained his rationale for leaving college a year early. He spoke of his family’s financial struggles and made the tough
decision to leave school even though he wanted to stay. Barber indicated that he would not have left Auburn University if he had gotten paid.
In 2013, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon courageously sued the NCAA in an antitrust lawsuit. The basis of the suit was the NCAA
was allowing EA Sports to use the likeness of the college basketball players. The NCAA rules force college athletes to sign a waiver giving up
all rights to earn money off of their image. I recall reading a story once about Chris Webber looking at his jersey hanging in the window of a
sporting goods store in Ann Arbor and not having enough money to purchase it. To add insult to injury, he was not making one red cent off the
sale of his jerseys! Webber was so angered by this experience that he got his revenge by selling burgers in a Michigan jersey that did not say
Michigan on the front. How is that for school spirit? Webber was fortunate though because he was able to rebound (no pun intended) and have
a very successful career in the NBA. But there are many who are not so fortunate.
Closer to home, our very own Nigel Hayes has been engaging in an effective effort to advocate for keeping the issue in the forefront in the
media. Last October during ESPN College Game Day in Madison, Hayes held up a sign that read, “Broke College Athlete, Anything Helps.” As a
result over 2,000 fans sent money to him, which he promptly donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. Hayes, like many college
athletes of the day, are seeing more and more how the NCAA is making vast sums of money off their hard work and are taking a stand against
it. Kudos to them.
Whether or not college athletes should be paid is also a deeply divided along racial lines as well. The majority of Blacks believe that college
athletes should be paid while the vast majority of whites do not. In a survey conducted by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study
(CCES) in 2014 found that 53 percent of Blacks support college athletes being paid compared to only 22 percent of whites.
Irrespective of race, with the astronomical fortune that the NCAA is making off these athletes should be compensated in some form. Not with a
salary, but at least with a stipend so that they are not walking campus flat broke.