Should NCAA athletes be paid to play?

August 25, 2010 |

In the 2007-2008 academic year, the University of Texas Longhorns earned over 120 million dollars in revenue from its athletics programs. Mack Brown, the head football coach of the Longhorns, made $5.1 million in the past year. Yet all of the football and basketball players who don a Longhorns jersey during the season do not earn a penny. The NCAA has always stressed the sacredness of amateurism, that student-athletes should not get paid for what they love to do, and that they are being rewarded by the free education they receive (in the case of scholarship athletes). However, the current system that high-level college sports has in place is inherently flawed as the amateur institution it claims to be; instead, it has become a major business in which the athletes are merely a proverbial cog in the machine.

There are several options for an overhaul of the current collegiate system. First, there is the option of college athletes getting paid some percentage of revenue, which the college brings in for that particular sport. While that would accomplish compensation for major athletes, there are multiple problems with this idea. First of all, every University of Texas football player, for instance, would receive the same amount of money regardless of how valuable he is to the team. Additionally, an athlete getting paid would essentially nullify the education process. In theory, the more an athlete gets paid to participate in collegiate athletics, the more time he or she will spend working at his or her respective sport. This does not sound like an issue until one realizes that this means less time actually being a college student, both academically and socially.

Instead, if the true focus of the NCAA is to provide athletics as a supplemental part of a student’s college experience, then there should be less of a commitment for athletes. Recently, the University of Michigan football program came under fire because some players revealed that coaches exceeded the limit of mandatory hours of practice a team can enforce. This problem has happened before, and it will continue to occur unless the NCAA truly is serious about prioritizing academics first and foremost. Currently, coaches are allowed to require 20 hours of mandatory practices a week for in-season athletes in Division I sports. This does not include games, “highly recommended” workouts in which coaches sometimes observe to see who participates, and the often nation-wide travel for athletes.

How can a college athlete realistically put his or her full effort into doing well in classes if he or she is essentially working a full-time job out of it? It’s fine if the NCAA does not want to pay athletes, but if they are going to do that, make college life more of a reality for these players. To start, the NCAA should lower the number of mandatory hours student-athletes can practice. Then, athletes can properly study and participate in their classes, and also get a paying job. Many athletes who are on scholarship have financial issues at home, and it does not help them to take away time from their academic and vocational endeavors.

The NCAA has a series of commercials saying “most athletes will go pro in something other than sports.” If that is really the case, then they should allow these college students to actually have the opportunity to find their futures. One cannot stress the importance of being a student before an athlete if collegiate athletics is looked at solely based on being a business. Instead of treating athletes as pawns for the colleges and universities they attend, the NCAA should focus on providing a landscape in which student-athletes can succeed at whatever they choose to accomplish in college and beyond.