Cam Cirillo: Professionalizing College Athletes a Bittersweet Possibility

Cam Cirillo

College athletes participating at the NCAA Division 1 level receive a great amount of fame. Many institutions across the nation not only aim to advertise their academic reputation, but additionally attempt to establish a competitive environment for athletics. Larger schools seem to try to conquer this multifaceted image to appeal to students, and talented athletes searching for schools across the nation. Rather large universities such as The University of Alabama, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, University of Michigan, Florida State University, and University of North Carolina  are only a few of the many successful college athletic programs in the country. What is most remarkable about these sports programs is that they generate extensive economic revenue in so many ways. Fan gear, marketing of the team, television broadcasting, and player fame bring in large sums of money on its own, even dis-regarding the amount of money earned from ticket sales. A study in 2008 by ESPN calculated that the sum of all athletic ticket event sales for one year for The University of Alabama was $28,410,419. Upwards of 28 million dollars a year is cycled in, disregarding the other sums of profit earned by the school. The branding of apparel, player advertisement, and money deals with top television companies also come into play. Division 1 schools also make a significant amount of money from away ticket sales themselves. The bottom line that needs to be addressed, is that these institutions generate whopping sums amount of money, yet the players rarely receive the recognition they deserve in the bigger picture. It is my personal opinion that college athletes deserve to be paid, and the implementation of payed salaries for athletes is certainly possible with schools that, year after year, bring in millions of dollars in revenue. Although colleges cater to the reputation of the school and utilize these gained earnings from athletics for the betterment of the institution, some of the revenue should be fractioned off to pay these hardworking student athletes. Yes, it would be wrong for me not to acknowledge the fact that colleges across the country give away generous scholarships for athletes, yet it is my opinion that athletes certainly deserve more than what they receive. With this said, professionalizing college athletics should and can be done. 

My first main reason why athletes deserve to be given fixed salaries, is due to the tremendous risk one is taking in preparedness for the future. After student athletes graduate from college, it is only a matter of time that they will search for career paths. Having a spot on a NCAA Division 1 team does not guarantee a path to a professional career, and this is troublesome for a large population of student athletes. Athletes at the Division 1 level commit a great extent of effort, time and devotion for an opportunity to succeed later on at the professional level. The unfortunate reality is that these schools cannot guarantee a spot on a professional team in the future, despite the extensive fame that the institution receives from these athletes in their college careers. According to the NCAA website, one of the main stat pages states: “Professional opportunities are extremely limited and the likelihood of a high school or even college athlete becoming a professional is very low”. With this said, it is college athletes making the professional level is a low percentage. According to the statistical reports on the page, it is reported that out of 72,788, only 16,000 will make the cut, and only 200 or so drafted into the NFL. That is a 1.6% chance that you will make it pro. This is not a very settling piece of information, is it. For women’s basketball, the scenario is even worse. Upwards of 16,000 female athletes will go out for the draft and roughly 40 make it to the major pro level the WNBA. This stat shows us that only 0.9 percent of these college female baskebtall athletes gets the professional job. With this stated, I believe it is necessary that since paid job opportunities are a rare case, and that these students should receive pay for their efforts in college. It seems to be a win-win for the university, yet the athletes fall short. The implementation of paying these athletes would offer them a small boost if a particular student athlete could not make it into the pro level down the road. To be a successful college athlete is one thing, to make it into the professional level is another, and to be a successful professional player at a top division team in that sport is a whole different movie.

Another pivotal reason why the NCAA should reform the payment regulations on student Division 1 athletes is due to the tremendous health risks these young adults take when participating on a varsity team. These students may be given a free ride into the school to play for them, yet this should not compensate for everything. Division 1 sports for both men and female athletes can be a dangerous health risk for a multitude of sports. Contact sports such as football, and hockey give room for serious injuries, and concussions. Data from the NCAA has reported that in mens Division 1 football ligament sprains are most common, along with concussions at 7.9 percent. A recent article generated from Al Jazeera America stated that nearly 500+ concussions have been reported in the last three years of college football. It is only fair to say that certain sports have a higher risk of injury, but such athletes playing in rather treacherous sports should have compensation. College athletics at this highly competitive level can receive severe injury. The installation of paid salaries for athletes would be concrete, and a acceptable compensation for the great health risk these young adults take when stepping onto the field. Although once again institutions offer scholarships, and sums of money to student athletes, many ask the question if this discount is even enough for the athletic role they serve. Major players for athletic programs are there to do a job, bring success to the team and that is simply all. With my extensive research on the topic, a similar theme can be found amongst sources; it seems that receiving an education is not so prominent for these individuals, and performing on the field is what is most important.

With this continous theme of a need to “perform on the field”, and the fact that student athletes feel that they are able to experience the full aspects of college, is an additional reason why these students should be paid. Students at the University of North Carolina are a perfect example of this failure to experience the full college lifestyle. In the year of 2014, it was reported that the University of North Carolina implemented “fake classes” so that athletes could primarily focus on athletics and pure performance on the court. CNN reported: “For 18 years, thousands of students at the prestigious University of North Carolina took fake ‘paper classes’, and advisers funneled athletes into the program to keep them eligible” (Ganim, Sayers 1). It is unfortunate that these students that participated in this program failed to witness the full college life, and their four years was practically a job. It does not seem morally correct that these schools can make such large profits, and not spread the fortune at all. At the end of the day, these athletes “make it or break it” for the school economically in many instances. The athletes are truly the one’s making the difference and shifting the world of sports. A school can have a successful coach, but a athletic organization is nothing without its talented athletes. Of course the head coach, general manager, and staff of a sports team are extremely paramount to the organizations success, the players are often overlooked at this competitive college level.

With these main points illustrated, it is evident that a elaborate plan will need to be implemented if college athletes were to be paid. To reduce confusion, and sexist confrontation as well as negative commentary among players and fans; women’s varsity programs should have congruent salary ranges to that of men. Although in professional sports many will come across the trend that Men’s sports receive higher pay, it would be recommended to not format it the same way. Women’s athletics should be paid equivalently to that of Men’s programs despite wide ranges in attendance. To limit bankruptcy and economic failure from certain athletic programs, the NCAA should propose to establish base salaries for athletes specifically participating at the Division 1 level. By default, Division 2 and Division 3 programs are typically not as competitive, and therefore payment at this level would not make the most sense. Calculating salaries for small, minuscule ranges for athletes at these lower divisions would only cause a great deal of controversy as well as confusion.

The professionalizing would entail the installation of contracts, as well as merchandising products. The products and merchandising revenue that the school accumulates based on their athletic program apparel could be divided into percentage revenue. Depending on the amount of (millions) of dollars accumulated from merchandise, and ticket sales, a percentage of the gains could be used to pay for these fixed salaries. Each athletic program at each school would develop a paid roster list (a list that determines which athletes deserve payment monthly). For example, if a player is injured or out of commission to play a student athlete would not be eligible for payment between a certain window of time. This ensures that the institution is distributing the salaries in a non-corrupt fashion, and limits money spent on inactive players. In addition, it is my recommendation that salary ranges stay congruent throughout a division to silence unfair advantages. For instance, the head Quarterback for Ohio State University ends up with the same fixed salary range as the head Quarterback for Pennsylvania State University. If a particular player is playing at his so called “peak”, the institution could make the decision to reward the player with a higher salary within the fixed salary range. The usage of salary ranges will ensure that certain players will receive nearly congruent amounts to that of their teammates and opponents. Additionally, this implementation of salary ranges would limit corruptness within the NCAA and would help disallow the potential for certain athletic programs to pay higher amounts than their competitive opponents.

In summation, it is my belief that professionalizing college athletes is a possibility in future years. If the NCAA can formulate rules that can offer congruent payment rules for all Division 1 teams, as well as install fixed salary ranges, it seems more than likely that it can be worked out. Division 1 college athletic programs earn millions of dollars, yearly, even for their existence in a league. Statistical studies show that these institutions could pay their students for their athletic progress on the field, and still be able to maintain strong academic programs at a university.