Melissa Anastasakis: Paying college athletes puts greater emphasis on athletics instead of academics


If collegiate sports became professionalized, too much emphasis would be put on salaries instead of education thus, defeating the entire purpose of attending college. Students should attend university for an education in order to better themselves for their future careers. Being able to compete as an athlete while receiving a formal education should be considered a bonus, not a priority.

Despite the ideal that academics come first, the average varsity athlete has often experience the extreme pressure put on them in order to perform well for their team. Often, these athletes have to put their athletics second, in an attempt to keep up with the demands of their team. This often involves missing classes, even examinations in order to attend practises and competitions. During the last decade, several universities were accused of having “paper classes” or fake classes in an attempt to boost athlete’s grades. UNC was accused of having councillors suggest grades to professors so that athletes could remain eligible to compete. Not only should this level of fraud be unnecessary, but it defeated the purpose of those athletes attending college. In 2015, a lawsuit was filed against the NCAA and the University of North Carolina for failing to provide students with an education. During one such case, a former Northwestern University athlete claimed that he was forced to change his major in order to meet practise requirements. It is easy to see how in such situations, athletes are forced to put their academics second to their team commitment. Paying athletes would likely put more pressure on them, and result in an even greater commitment to sports.

Coaches have a significant amount of power over athletes. They can often become overbearing in an attempt to run a successful program. At highly competitive football programs, for example, there is always a high demand for a position on the team. Not meeting a coach’s expectations could mean getting benched at games, or losing your spot on the team all together. In the article, “College Players Have Little Defense Against Abusive Coaches”, Dan Grunfeld reflects on his experience as an intercollegiate and professional basketball player, while also talking about the infamous Rutgers University basketball coach who was video taped physically and verbally abusing his athletes while at practise. Grunfeld explains how disturbing he found the video, which involved violence towards students and homophobic slurs. Grunfeld explain that as a student athlete, there isn’t much that can be done, “After all, they’re just kids, unpaid and loyal to their schools and teammates, with no labor rights to speak of, some barely 18 years-old.” Grunfeld explains that speaking out could mean getting benched, or removed from the team, especially with the risk of athletic directors and institutions covering up any form of scandal. Unfortunate scandals like these get covered up quite often because soiling the reputation of the program could mean lost revenue in the future. This has become an issue with big sports programs because the benefits of a successful program have been put ahead of the athletes. Professionalizing college sports would put more pressure on programs to generate a profit and has the potential to make the situation worse. Turning a profit from a sports program should not be a priority over the athletes.

The idea of a salary, while initially sounding like a positive idea, raises an important question: where would the money come from? An important argument from the article, “Students Are Not Professional Athletes”, is that not all athletic programs generate a profit. In fact, with the exception of some of the larger programs like basketball and football, many programs run at a cost to the school. It is likely that the addition of the athletes salaries could lead a school down the pathway to financial ruin. This scenario would leave universities and governing institutions like the NCAA two options: either cut athletic programs that don’t generate enough of a profit to support salaries, or limit the professional status to those few programs. That would mean that a few select schools with large enough programs would be able pay their athletes. This would only further accentuate the issue of students choosing schools based solely off of a sports program. While students being attracted to schools with more successful sports programs is currently an issue, the appeal of monetary compensation would only further this issue. This is in fact a problem because it means that student athletes would put more emphasis on athletics and not on their education. As stated by California State University president Horace Mitchell, “Collegiate sports is not a career or profession. It is the students’ vehicle to a higher education degree”. While the sports program is an integral part of choosing a school, it should not be the only factor. If a few universities professionalized their programs this could have negative affects for schools with smaller sports programs as fewer athletes would be inclined to go there.

Paying athletes may seem like an ideal. Student athletes are forced to lead lives quite different from those of regular students, they make many sacrifices in support of their team. However, the goal of college athletics should not be to make money. Students participate in amateur sports while in university because it is a great addition to their education. For some, an athletic scholarship is their gateway to a university education. Collegiate sports should not be anything more than this. Professionalizing college sports would mean putting too much emphasis on sports and not enough on the importance of receiving a formal education, which is the entire purpose of attending university. Based on this, there is really no reason to professionalize college athletics, and doing so would further interfere with student life.