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Should College Athletes Get Paid?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Adam Bettcher / Stringer
*Updated 2023
In 2010, CBS Sports and Turner signed a $10.8B deal with NCAA to broadcast the March Madness men’s basketball tournament up until 2024. In 2016, the parties extended the deal, valued at $8.8B, through 2032. Previously, the broadcasts’ college sports stars themselves had no chance of receiving much of that sum (at least not directly).  However, in 2019, the NCAA decided to allow college athletes to start financially benefiting from the use of their names, images and likeness. This decision followed the move by several states, led by California, to pass laws allowing the same right, which was part of a longtime debate about whether college athletes should be paid or not. The question arises primarily regarding football and basketball student athletes, since they bring in most of the money.
Though they are not paid by the colleges or universities, they can now make deals with companies sponsors that use their images and receive gifts boosters. But at what cost? And should they share any of their bounty with their teammates?
Here are three arguments for and three arguments against paying college athletes:


Three Reasons Why College Athletes Should Get Paid


The difficulty to implement is no excuse

An important argument coming from those who oppose paying college athletes is the expected difficulty involved with implementing such a move. The following are just some of the questions that pinpoint the complexities: Who will pay the college athletes? How often will they receive pay? Will there be a salary cap? The main question regards the equitable application of paying college athletes, namely who will get paid and who won’t.


However, since the debate was first sparked over the NCAA’s income from broadcasting, the answer seems simple: Theoretically, the athletes to get paid should be the ones playing the sports that bring in the big money, namely, men’s college basketball and football players. This is capitalism, and this is how it works in America. In its ruling, the NCAA distinguished between amateur athletes and potential professional athletes, i.e., those most likely to be recruited by professional teams. Time will tell who ultimately benefits from this decision.


Athletes risk their body and are exposed to permanent damage

One of the best aspects of college sports is the players’ enthusiasm. Their love and passion for their respective game is admirable and infectious. But, there is a downside to it; in their fervor to play their best, many college athletes suffer serious injuries that sometimes prematurely end their career. Setting aside the disturbing fact that a career-ending injury will stop their scholarship, those college athletes put their bodies at risk of permanent damage, without being paid. Hurting your knee might leave you limping for the rest of your life. Suffering concussions can cause dementia and depression, not to mention CTE. Those college athletes who put their bodies on the line for each training session and game they play deserve to be paid for the health risks they are taking.


There’s big money involved in college sports anyway

It`s common to think paying college athletes can detract from the purity of the game and ruin that magic. But it won`t. The passion fans see on the court or field is attributed to the fact that there is no money involved. However, that’s not exactly accurate. Big companies are profiting off of branding college athletes, namely, asking them to wear brand apparel during games without paying them to do so. As such, these players feel used. And rightly so. The new rule allowing them to get paid shows that the NCAA and fans are really concerned about preserving the purity of college sports.


Three Reasons Why College Athletes Should Not Get Paid



The difference for college athletes is marginal in term of money

If salaries were to replace scholarships in college sports, athletes may not earn much more. Let’s say for the sake of argument that, for example, an impressive $100,000-a-year salary for a college athlete would grant him only a few hundred dollars more per year than a scholarship. Let’s just estimate that a full athletic scholarship at an NCAA Division I university is about $65,000 a year. This includes tuition, room, board, and books (if you enroll at a college with high tuition). In contrast, a salary will be subjected to federal and state income taxes. Therefore, out of the $100,000, a net of $65,100 would remain for the student. The difference is marginal.


Earning big money too soon can be harmful

People argue that paying collage athletes will help create a sense of financial awareness for them. However, in reality, poor investments, trusting unethical financial advisors and lavish spending habits are some of the main reasons professional athletes find themselves broke after they retire, according to ESPN documentary, “Broke.” Without sound financial education, young college athletes may not be equipped to handle so much money.


Paying big money for college students miss the purpose of college

College is about preparing oneself for real life. It is supposed to provide students with tools and abilities to succeed after college. In that manner, college athletes are no different than other college students who practice or inten in hospitals, law firms or advertising agencies for little to no money. So why should athletes be get paid while the others don’t?


A lot of young adults today are impatient and lack the ability to delay gratification. College can teach them a great life lesson: in real life, you have to work hard and wait for your chance. Paying big money to any college student, athlete or academic is far from being the ideal preparation for life.


The Bottom Line: Paying big money to college athletes defeats the purpose of college as a preparatory lesson for life, especially when the monetary difference between a salary and a scholarship is marginal. On the other hand, not paying athletes who risk serious long-term injuries is morally wrong. Was the NCAA right to change the current practice?

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