Pay to Play: College Athletes and Money

The tide is coming. Whether you’re in favor of it or not (I’m on the fence about it), the pressure is mounting for some sort of change to be made regarding college players getting paid.

Revelations about players accepting cash or other “impermissible benefits” are coming out at a faster clip, and the incredibly large stigma that came along with getting caught by the NCAA for committing such a crime has been reduced to the program or individual being stuck in the sports news cycle for a day or two and then returning to business as usual—unless your name is Johnny Manziel.

Pundits can’t seem to come to an agreement on what the model for paying college-level athletes would look like, but nearly all of them are in accord that the players who turn athletics into a multi-million dollar marketing tool deserve some sort of cut—be it from the money generated through mega television contracts or the sale of gear on the NCAA fan shop

Coverage in the media of this issue has exploded of late thanks to Manziel’s well-documented summer, which included getting thrown out of fraternity parties and allegedly accepting cash for signing hundreds (maybe thousands) of pieces of Texas A&M paraphernalia. But that coverage has been less about how terrible it is that Manziel might have taken cash (no evidence was ever uncovered) and more about how it’s a travesty that players are the main cog in the money-making wheel but don’t see a dime of it.

A face was put on the issue this week when former Tennessee star and current Houston Texans running back Arian Foster sat down with Sports Illustrated and admitted to taking cash during his senior season. The reason for doing so? Basic survival, Foster said.

I don’t have the perfect answer for what paying college athletes looks like, and I’m not sure that anyone does. It’s a complicated matter—if schools decide to pay athletes on the revenue producing sports (what exactly that means can vary from school to school), what kind of message does that send, or impact does that have on the other sports at a particular school; what about the female athletes and how does Title IX come into effect; what does a union of college athletes look like, because they’re going to need one to collectively bargain their rights and all… you catch my drift—but there has to be a simple place to start with all this.

Well, what if the NCAA just stopped caring if student-athletes accepted cash in exchange for autographs, or if a few kids get free tattoos, or if, like with Foster, an insanely-paid head coach provided some of his guys a free meal?

I get the argument that a lot of these kids are getting free rides at some of the top institutions throughout the country, but half (if not more) of them are working towards BS majors while they spend 80-90 percent of their time at practices or on the road for games or out promoting the school and working for “free.” So what if the kids who excel at what they do are able to reap some of the rewards. They don’t have time in their day to hold a job on top of the classes their supposed to be at and the practices and games they have to attend, which, as in Foster’s case, means they don’t have the time to earn money to be able to put food in their fridges. As a former D-I college-athlete, I’ve experienced what it’s like to have multiple practices a day, having to wake up early, go to class, sprint to practice, find time for school work, and get a couple of hours of shut eye, only to wake up and have to do it all over again—and that’s just what it was like for a college wrestler at a school that eventually dropped the program. I never had time to do anything else but go to class, wrestle, and sleep. Forget holding a job during all of that.

Might allowing those extra benefits to be legal breed resentment in some locker rooms throughout the country? Possibly. But it could also make the other athletes work to improve so they can earn some extra incentives themselves.

A recent Time article gets to the crux of the problem fairly well:

According to one study, a season’s worth of Texas A&M home games delivers $86 million in sales to Brazos County, where College Station sits.  The people who deliver the actual product everyone is all excited about — the players — deserve the right to earn more. An athletic scholarship, no doubt, is sweet. But College Station on Saturday resembled any insane NFL game, rock concert or NASCAR event in size and scope. It’s a commercialized carnival. In a fairer world, the college entertainers — just like the NFL players, the rock stars, and the NASCAR drivers — get a fairer cut.

Again, no matter what your feelings are on the matter, something is going to have to give. Too much money is circulating around college sports and the players aren’t being given their fair shake.

One response to “Pay to Play: College Athletes and Money

  1. Pingback: Guess How Much Your Alma Mater Owes Its Athletes? | Rob Stott

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