Should College Athletes Be Paid?

I love college sports.

I love the energy, the passion, and the live-or-die association from the fans. I love the team oriented approach, the strategies, and the varieties of styles. I love the rivalries, the traditions, and the idea that these athletes are just students like us doing what they love.

Actually, I just came back from Tobacco Roadhouse Sports Bar and concluded a full day of college football, and it was nothing short of glorious (minus the devastating Duke loss).

Part of what I love is changing, however, with the recent realignments – with teams changing conferences to get better TV deals – and with the increasing number of scandals that has been exposed (illegal benefits offered in big time programs such as Ohio State, UNC, Miami, USC, etc). Though there is not much we can do about the first problem, there has been more and more talk on solving the latter problem by paying the student athletes. The proponents of this idea argue that by paying the athletes, we not only eliminate these scandals, we are treating the student athletes more ethically by giving them back some of the money they earned for their institutions. They ask why we as a society should ask the student athletes to not care about money when the schools itself are doing everything possible to secure a better TV deal. They question the ethics in the decisions of NCAA/NBA/NFL to block young people’s chance to make money for themselves and their families when many come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, this party argues that by providing money incentives, college athletes are encouraged to stay in school instead of making a mockery of college education by bolting for professional sports early.

And I have big problems with that.

Starting with the logistics, the most obvious question that begs answers is who should get paid? Should field hockey players get paid? Or should only revenue generating sports pay their players? Should only revenue generating programs pay their players then? If so, wouldn’t the good recruits only go to revenue generating schools? Who makes all these decisions and how should they make them? Moving away from logistics, I am going to argue that the universities are making a bigger mockery of college education by paying “students” for their excellence on the field or court instead of academic excellence. By paying these “students,” the universities are essentially hiring athletes for money generating purposes. Fair, many athletes from these revenue generating sports come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but these athletes are getting a discounted if not free education, and perhaps this is just the bias of me being a college student, but I believe that is an unbelievable gift that most disadvantaged teenagers can only dream of and a gift that benefits for a lifetime.

My dad and I were discussing today’s U.S. social mobility during fall break due to Occupy Wall Street, and he mentioned how the most visible social mobility in American society today is the professional athletes. This may be sad but it can be very true. I personally rather hear more stories about, say, Dr. Ben Carson. Education is important, and we should not mock it further by paying athletes to go to school when we rarely as institutions pay college students extra based on merit alone. Besides, this romantic idea of student athletes is what makes college sports so great. So let’s at least try to keep it that way.

*iThink has actually done a discussion on this topic before. And The Atlantic also has a good read on the topic.