College Athletes Getting Played
Many kids dream of being a professional athlete, and their first stop is getting a full ride at the best university in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). These kids will have a lot places to choose from, with over 1,000 schools and 400,000 student athletes under the umbrella of the NCAA (Who We Are 1). What they don’t know is that even “full ride” college athletes end up in debt, along with having the stress of balancing the demanding sport with a just as demanding course load. Student athletes have a full time job, travel included, at their university with the sports they play. Scholarships are a good starting point to compensate them, but it is not enough; collegiate athletes should get paid every year beyond those scholarships to help keep them out of debt and make them a more reliable player for their team.
What many people forget about student athletes is that they’re still students. Just because they play a sport does not mean they get a free pass in their classes. Some athletes may have professors that give them a little later deadlines, or make up labs, but if they fail, they fail. Athletes must at least meet the minimum GPA standards in place to graduate, and take certain amounts of credits each term (depending on the division) to stay eligible to play (Remaining Eligible 1). Tyson Hartnett, currently a writer for the Huffington Post and an alum of NCAA college athletics, explains: “On a typical day, a player will wake up before classes, get a lift or conditioning session in, go to class until 3 or 4 p.m., go to practice, go to mandatory study hall, and then finish homework or study for a test” (Harnett 1). Harnett continues to talk about his roommate, who had a “full ride” but still needed money: “He would work his butt off all day, with two or sometimes three basketball training sessions, plus classes and homework, and go to that job for a few hours late at night. He would come back exhausted, but he needed whatever money they would pay him” (Harnett 1). He continues to explain that his roommate was forced to quit his job once the season started up, and could only use the money he had saved up. That doesn’t sound like what all the young athletes dream of doing, does it? But it doesn’t end there.
The life of a college athlete is not just this “free” education and grueling schedule; many players end up paying for a lot more than they bargained for. Researchers at Ithaca College discovered that on average, Division 1 athletes pay $2,951 in school-related expenses - after their “full scholarship” (FYI: College Athletes Have Debt, Too 1). For many people, when thinking about attending college, they expect to pay extra for miscellaneous expenses. But for students who are promised a scholarship and sign a National Letter of Intent saying they’ll get free tuition and room and board, they are shocked when they realize it says nothing about books, computers, parking fees, and food and are at a loss when all their cash runs out fast. The new study The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports discovered that on average 85.5% of players are living below the federal poverty line. They also estimated the "fair market value" to the universities of these studied football and basketball players was between $120,048 and $265,027 (Nance-Nash 1). There are many opposing arguments saying that people with academic scholarships are helped enough, so it’s not necessary to try and help athletes, but no one really explains how different these types of scholarships are.
When comparing academic and athletic scholarships, the only similarity is the fact that each student, whether or not they’re getting an athletic or academic scholarship, must maintain certain standards to keep that scholarship. However, those standards vary dramatically. David Wunderlich who studied Decision and Information Sciences at the University of Florida explains: “Academic scholarship requirements are far less subjective than athletic scholarship expectations. You know ahead of time what’s required to keep an academic scholarship, and you can change majors to keep it if you struggle in your chosen field of study. You get periodic progress reports in the form of graded work and exams to know where you stand in each class” (Wunderlich 1). These academic requirements and progress reports are in complete contrast to athletes and their teams. Athletes can’t switch to a different sport like a new major, and they don’t get progress reports (or warnings) from coaches telling them that they’re on the verge of breaking the rules or not meeting the standards. Also, it’s rare to see students who travel as often as athletes do (a few days or weeks at a time), and the students with the academic scholarships won't have as many miscellaneous, necessary expenses. But then the next frequently-asked question is, don’t high schoolers learn all of this before they sign up? It’s their choice to do this, right?
Scoop Jackson from ESPN argues just that: “Every student who signs a letter of intent or agrees to accept a scholarship to play a sport knows going in that the school's job is to make the most money off of his or her efforts. They agree to that. It's no different than a professional athlete signing a contract” (Jackson 1). What Jackson doesn’t take into account is the fact that the people signing these contracts are 15-17 year olds, and the only help they usually have reading over their contracts is their parents. Professional athletes have lawyers to read and change contracts if needed. These high schoolers are too excited to be living their dream to understand what every technical term the contract says. They do - or should - know that yes, the colleges are looking to make money of the programs, but when they’re only getting a couple tens of thousands of dollars to cover tuition when their net worth to the school is over $200,000, there’s no good reason they shouldn’t be getting more. In the most popular sports programs, like Duke University, many basketball players are valued at over $1,000,000 while living just a few hundred dollars over the poverty line (Nance-Nash 1). This isn’t just; it’s taking advantage of them, and exploiting the talents these college athletes hold.
Another common argument against paying college athletes is that with the lack of financial incentive, the programs weed out the poorly-focused or the undedicated players. But it would be just the opposite. When a school gives an athletic scholarship to a player, they cannot take it away unless the player voluntarily quits the team or breaks NCAA, university, or team rules (Fitzgerald 1). But by giving these athletes extra money, they’d be more invested to stay on the team and make the team successful and popular; the less success the team has, the less excess money they could possibly be giving to the players. If you had a president of any multimillion or billion dollar company (like a university, for example) do their job for free, it’s safe to assume they would not work as hard, if at all. Give them their hefty paychecks back and it would be business as usual. It’s not only fair, but it’s an investment on the school and the NCAA’s part to help create healthier and more successful sports programs.
Yet, the NCAA prides itself on keeping these student athletes amateurs. The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, explains: "you have something very different from collegiate athletics. One of the guiding principles (of the NCAA) has been that this is about students who play sports” (NCAA President: Not a Good idea 1). But the NCAA has never explained or shown any reasons for why it’s such a bad thing for them to be “professional” athletes in college. It’s not much different from college students who get paid to assist with a research project or internship that follows their career interests. Technically, that would make those students “professionals” in that field as well. If the athletes at the university want to have their careers involve sports, the NCAA has no reason not to support them financially similarly to academic internships.
One way to fix these problems is to pay these athletes enough to cover their basic needs and necessities, but not too much to demean their education. There are two places this money could come from, the first being the universities themselves. A lot of the direct profit (game tickets, concessions, etc.) go straight back to the athletic programs, which then goes to coaches and funding new equipment, uniforms, and facilities. College coaches earn at least $100,000 a year (Harnett 1) and there are a minimum of three coaches per team. That can get up to half a million dollars just for coaching alone. Then there are programs that have a single coach getting paid in the millions. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, also known as “Coach K” from Duke University made 9.7 million dollars in 2011 alone (Medcalf 1). Coaching is very important in any sport, but coaches don’t win the games, the players do. Without the players, Coach K’s dynasty at Duke wouldn’t exist. That’s the first place the compensation could come from for these players. However, not every team is as successful as Duke University. In that case, the programs would set a minimum per athlete to help out the less successful or less popular sports without hurting the overall program by taking out too much money.
The second place to look for change is to the NCAA. There are many different opinions about the NCAA. Some say they’re extremely helpful in keeping players under control in college, while others say the NCAA is just there to make money and doesn’t care about the players or programs. Either way, the bottom line is the NCAA is an extremely profitable organization. On the NCAA’s official website they state: “For 2011-12, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available. NCAA revenue was $871.6 million” (Revenue 1). If you divide that money up by the 400,000 players that participate in the NCAA, they would each get about $2,000. This would help the players, the programs, and help keep the NCAA’s prideful “non-profit” reputation. In that same study, The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sports they also explain: “the NCAA explicitly allows college athletes to accept food stamps and welfare benefits. ‘The NCAA is forcing taxpayers to pay for expenses that players would be able to pay themselves if not for NCAA rules’” (Nance-Nash 1). There is no reason that these players giving up their time risking their and bodies should be forced to accept food stamps when they could be getting paid by the same organization that pays their executives an average of one million dollars a year (Harnett 1). The NCAA should encourage a healthier life if they’re truly that focused on helping the players. This doesn’t happen when these athletes can’t afford to buy enough food when they’re out on the road.
NCAA athletics isn’t high school sports. These aren’t minors playing for fun. These are collegiate student athletes playing for a purpose and for a goal: to get to the next level of becoming professional athletes. For many of these players, that next level never comes, whether through injury or simply not getting drafted. If players continue to be unpaid employees, raising money for their school and the NCAA, those years might become a waste. Lives get changed by academic failure, permanent injuries, or simply unfulfilled life dreams. Referees are part of sports to keep games fair, but it’s time to make the college athletic programs fair to the players.
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