Connor Johnson: Paying College Athletes in Alternative Forms


College athletes balance a lot of work in college.  There is a lot of pressure to be part of a large college athletic team and to keep up with the work in the classroom.  Athletes in major Division I programs perform for millions of fans and, in many cases, bring in millions of dollars for the school.  Despite the big business college sports has become, athletes are classified as “amateurs” by the NCAA, forcing them to miss out on many financial opportunities.  This is especially challenging for athletes from poor backgrounds who find themselves in difficult situations coming out of college. I believe athletes should be given the role of professionals because the pressure of maintaining a celebrity status along with student life deserves to be rewarded.   By giving them a guaranteed four or five year scholarship to fulfill their education, or allowing them to earn money from company endorsements and autographs, athletes can receive the money they deserve.

In all other countries, academics are the first priority for a college athlete. However, in the US, major college sports such as football and basketball are becoming as popular as professional sports.   College athletes are being asked to perform at higher levels than ever before, with increased pressure to win.  There are longer seasons and more travel requirements, yet they must keep up with academics as well.  If they are being asked to perform like professionals, then they should be given some of the professional benefits. The problem is that the NCAA does not view the athletes as professionals but views them as, “amateurs engaged in sport during their free time”.  While this may have been true in the past, the business of NCAA athletics has changed significantly and the treatment of athletes has not.  While the NCAA and universities profit, the athletes only see increasing workloads and pressures.  Although they are viewed as celebrities in the public, they are not getting the benefits they deserve from the NCAA.

This can be even more stressful for some athletes who barely have enough money to pay for college life on its own.  Because of this, many athletes fall victim to the temptation of bribery and illegal payments. Recently, NBA rookie Ben Simmons issued a statement that said he was offered cars, jewelry, and other forms of payment from colleges. If he accepted these deals, he would have gotten into a lot of trouble.  If colleges were to give their athletes a form of reimbursement, these scandals would be much less common.

One way to ensure athletes feel like students is to give them a guaranteed four- or five-year scholarship.  One of the main concerns of athletes is that their scholarship will be taken away, along with their ability to attend college, if they do not perform well or if they get injured.  A New York Times article quoted Allen Sack, a former athlete and current professor, who stated that, “63 percent of the women and 49 percent of the men on scholarship said they feared their athletic aid would be withdrawn if they did not perform to a coach’s expectation; 42 percent of the men on scholarship said they felt pressure to take less demanding academic majors because of their sports involvement, and 48 percent of those on scholarship said they were encouraged to take easy courses.” This indicates that many athletes feel stressed about working towards their academic major and choose to impress coaches instead of working towards a major.  Currently the NCAA only provides year-to-year scholarships that can be intimidating to many athletes.  The NCAA should guarantee four-year scholarships to enable athletes to pursue their academic dreams as well as their athletic ones. The aforementioned New York Times article also mentions Stephen Danly, a current college athlete. Danly believes that athletes should be a given a five-year scholarship so they can focus an entire year on academics and take additional classes they desire.  Although the NCAA is not paying the players directly, this form of reward could better serve the players by easing one of their greatest areas of stress.

Division I athletes playing basketball and football are known to reach celebrity status among fellow students and fans. It is never a surprise to see their faces in magazines and TV with fans demanding their autographs and photos.  Brands such as Nike or Under Armor also wish to endorse players and teams. However, all the autographed merchandise, photos, and endorsement money goes to the NCAA instead of the students.  In 2012, the University of Texas received $104 million from their football program alone and kept $78 million in profit. An Economist article titled, Punishingly Profitable makes a good point when it states, “Rather than subsidising, say, bursaries for needy students or cutting-edge academic research, these funds remain exclusively within athletic departments.”  A portion of merchandising and endorsement money should go to the athletes since they are the ones who make the money for the program. This can be beneficial for universities since athletes are not getting a direct salary.

College athletes put in a tremendous amount of work to balance school work and athletics. Although they are viewed as amateurs, many college athletes receive as much attention, or more, than professionals.  The skills they possess, the time the sports require, and the effort they put in is something to be admired.  Athletes are not just there for sport’s entertainment; they are there to learn and prepare for a potential career. However, due to the priority many schools put on sports, many athletes are left taking easier classes that challenge the ability to develop potential career paths. Given the large profits received by universities and the NCAA, I believe the athletes deserve more reward.   Guaranteed scholarships and the ability for athletes to earn money from endorsements would encourage more athletes to take advantage of the educational opportunities that they are provided at school. By giving players a portion of the money, athletes are less likely to take illegal deals and bribes that can jeopardize their future.  It is time the athletes get back some of the incredible rewards the universities and NCAA gain on their behalf.