Matt Martens: Professionalizing College Athletics Would Only Further Corrupt the NCAA

College athletics is entirely voluntary.  Sometimes this crucial fact can get lost among all the arguments centered around the exploitation of student-athletes, but it is a vital component of the entire system.  Although a division one, brand-name university may find ways to profit tremendously from major spectator sports such as men’s basketball and football, this does not mean that these students are entitled to salaries to compensate for their time.  It is easy to make the idealistic argument that in a perfect world an athlete should be fairly paid for what they do for their university, but a payroll for college students is simply not practical and would instead destroy and corrupt the already fragile system the NCAA has in place.  Athletes are given breaks on tuition and are free to quit their respective sports if they feel this tuition money is not worth the time they are committing to the college.  The current system as it stands is by no means faultless, but bringing in taxable salaries into sports would invite even more controversy as there would be arguments as to who gets paid and by how much?  The collegiate system is far from standardized, with certain colleges being far bigger and better at major spectator sports, thus making attempts at trying to create a “fair” system of professionalizing college athletics impossible in the modern era.

Are all athletes expected to have equal salaries regardless of their sport?  Are are all colleges required to pay their student-athletes the same regardless of the size of the institution?  It is simply impossible to count all of the variables and negative implications of paying athletes as there is no way for standardization.  Colleges usually only make a profit from big-ticket sports like men’s basketball and football; so in the interest of fairness, should athletes be paid according to the money they generate for their college?  The argument that some large division one institutions make large profits from tv deals, sponsorships, and ticket sales is valid, but then it is really only fair to pay the athletes who are accountable for all that money.  Although a women’s volleyball player may put in the same amount of hours into her sport that a male football player does at the same school, the female athlete simply just doesn’t generate the same revenue that her male counterpart does.  This is where collegiate salaries would get extremely controversial.  If the NCAA choses to pay all athletes the same the football and basketball players would complain that they are being undervalued and underpaid for their services, but if these male athletes were paid more, others would be complaining that the female volleyball player is being under-appreciated for the same amount of work.  It is simply impossible to appease both the emotional and financial arguments for paying athletes as they are contradictory in nature.  Institutional profits are derived from male-dominated sports, but such sports don’t necessarily require more time and effort (for the students) than other scholarship-backed programs that rely on monetary grants to survive.  Not only is their financial disparity among the sports within a certain college, but also an insurmountable gap between universities themselves.

Schools within the NCAA are extremely diverse in terms of sizes of their undergraduate and alumni populations alike.  Larger state schools such as the University of Alabama receive exponentially more in alumni donations then smaller private schools in division one.  These private donations, which can’t be capped by the NCAA, leave Alabama with more potential to pay athletes more than their smaller competitors.  If the NCAA allowed salaries for the students, some colleges would take advantage of their larger endowments and offer better high-school athletes more money to come to their schools, thus affecting recruiting and creating an oligarchic system in which only a few colleges would be successful in college sports.  If the NCAA goes the other way and mandates what colleges are allowed to pay students, many schools would not be able to meet this financial requirement due to their smaller size and inability to pay all their athletes.  

Given the already valid complaints of corruption in the NCAA, allowing salaries would absolutely cripple the feeble collegiate system.  Students would become professionals and with that comes limitless disputes over contract negotiations, benefits, and all the other side effects that we see in professional sports today.  Student-athletes are already compensated with academic scholarships and given that the average student graduates with $32,000 in debt, many would make the argument that participating in college athletics is a privilege.  Although collegiate student-athletes are asked to commit a lot of time and effort into their respective sports, they are given more lenient acceptance rates, access to reduced-cost or free tutoring, and a host of other benefits during their four years.  The scholarships that these athletes receive are not subjected to taxes and thus worth far more than a $65,000 a year salary that would end up being reduced by as much as forty percent, with the remainder going to federal agencies.  If the non-monetary benefits that these athletes receive are converted to cash incentives, many athletes themselves might find that they actually would receive less overall for their time they commit to their sports.  

A collegiate athlete enters a voluntary agreement to participate in an NCAA-mandated sport.  Although some large colleges take advantage of the “non-profit”, corrupt system and collect money to spend freely, the athletes themselves would benefit more from a reform centered around monetary incentives and programs.  If taxable salaries were to be implemented and collegiate sports became professionalized, institutions themselves would try to find ways around paying athletes less and less and the students would find themselves victimized even more than they are under the present system.  The NCAA is extremely flawed, but the solution lies not in an unrealistic system of student-employees; it lies within the internal benefits a student would receive while studying at their institutions.  Critics of the NCAA should plead for increased tutoring services and schedules that eliminate conflicts with classes rather than trying to give un-equipped freshman large salaries.  College athletics needs to change, but the answer for dishonesty within the NCAA is not to open up opportunities for more corruption by increasing the cash flow of the entire system.