Why Can’t We Pay Student Athletes?


Wake up. Hit the training facility gym for 2 hours. Practice with the team for 4 hours. Body treatments. Meeting with coaches. Hit the training facility gym for 2 more hours. Head home. And then you start to study. How many of you initially thought that I was referring to a professional athlete? This is the life of your typical college athlete. So, when does the college come in? Let’s investigate.

College football can have up to 13 games per season, some of them on the road. College basketball can have up to 40 games per season, some of them on the road. College baseball can have up to 60 games per season, some of them on the road. For those of us that have attended college as an actual student, there is complete clarity about how much time paper writing, studying, researching, stressing about grades and class time can occupy. For those that haven’t attended college, please trust me when I tell you that the only other thing you can squeeze into your week is drinking with your friends to complain about class or studying with your friends and complaining about class.

So how do these “students” maintain a normal class schedule? They don’t. And that’s the basis of my challenge with the NCAA and it’s rules regarding student athletes. No one with the Internet and the ability to use Google believes that these athletes are truly students, Duke withstanding (I couldn’t resist). We’ve heard them attempt to speak and struggle to do so in spite of media training (YES, they receive media training). We have proven accounts of student athletes receiving a degree without knowing how to read. We know the Wonderlic scores. School isn’t a priority. It’s not even an afterthought. It’s simply not on the radar.

The NCAA rules do not allow their athletes to use their names for pay or use their likeness to directly endorse commercial products. This has not stopped the NCAA, a non-profit institution that pays no taxes on its income, from profiting. Pertinent bullets:

• The NCAA brought in more than $700 million in 2009 largely due to television rights fees.
• $75 million in tickets sales generated.
• Collected $12 million in membership fees.
• Collection more than $7 million in rights and royalties.
• Paid its top 14 executives $6 million in compensation.

So why can’t college athletes be paid? Why do we force them to exist in financial purgatory as a student? Keep in mind that athletic scholarships and grants disallow the “student” athletes to hold jobs further lending to the financial challenge that so many of them face. The arguments that I’ve heard range from “they’re getting a free education” (failed logic) to “they get to audition for a million dollar job while in college”. We’ve clarified that true schooling isn’t happening. We also know that only 1% of college athletes make it to the professional level so what about the other 99% that can’t read, has gotten hurt and lost their “free audition” opportunity and now have to figure out how to survive post athletics? What’s the billion-dollar NCAA’s obligation to these students?

Finally, there is an incredible level of inconsistency in how student athletes are regarded. Work study students provide a service for the university and they get paid. Research assistants provide a service for the university and they get paid. Resident assistants provide a service for the university and they get paid. Student athletes provide a service for the university AND GENERATE MILLIONS yet they receive no compensation. Again, I ask, why can we not pay athletes?

There is no easy business model to determine equitable pay amounts but in a billion dollar organization, someone should be able to figure it out.



  1. How exactly would athletes be paid? If you pay one group, you would have to pay them all, including the not so popular ones, ie water polo, lacross ect. And yes, work study and research assistants get paid, but they are not given a free education and free room and board. Bottom line is that why should we feel sorry for these student athletes? They are given a free education, free room and board, free meals, best dorms, top of the line tutors and best of all, no student loan debts. Do you know how many people have almost or more than 6 figure student loan debts that they are struggling to pay off? And most of them will never get them payed off completly. The athletes are lucky, and if they choose to squander the opportunity they are given, then that’s there problem. I for one will not feel sorry for them.

    • Yes, some research assistants are given a “free” education. Have you ever met a grad school student? It’s not about feeling sorry for them, it’s about what’s fair. I know many people that have 6 figure loans. I also know quite a few smart ones with NONE. Works both ways. I completely disagree with the athletes being lucky. This is one of the primary lockout challenges. There is no other option other than the NFL and 1% college football athletes make it to that level. Nothing lucky about that. Provide options and then we can talk about squandered opportunity.

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