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It’s Time For College Athletes to Be Paid

Hint: We bear some of the blame.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma Practice Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In wake of the the NCAA men’s basketball scandal and investigation, the internet is bombarded with articles, tweets, and other forms of thoughts on the subject. Often the topic turns to whether or not it’s time to pay college players for the athlete portion of being a student-athlete. As the title suggest, this article will highlight the reasons why they should be paid, as well as how that could possibly happen.

However, let me start by stating up until recently, I was in the old-school camp of saying the athletes are paid in a free education and now even more with their full cost of attendance scholarships. And I still believe that. I value education. I took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to obtain a master’s degree and I don’t regret it. The point being though, that the degree is simply not competency enough for the demands and rigors of today’s college athlete. And guess what? We are fans share the blame in that...

Why the current system isn’t working:

Amateur status doesn’t mean what it used to mean

Way back when college athletics started, as well as the following years all was right with the way things were done. Amateurism was a great concept; to get a college degree by playing sports. What could be better honestly? During those times, professional sports didn’t exist or when they did, very few went pro. The purpose of college sports was much different, and even in recent decades, college sports seemed more pure than professional sports (although this may have been a naive sense). There was an article a few years back (sorry to the author for not remembering) that did a great job explaining how as a society, we in a sense gravitated towards college sports because we liked that they were amateurs and valued that. Due to us valuing it, college sports exploded and became a huge enterprise with loads of games on TV and bringing tons of money in, making college football and basketball as big as pro football and basketball. This process has effectively killed the concept of amateurism as players are expected to be almost at a pro level and we treat them as such in games, interviews, off the field habits.

To summarize, amateurism is dead and we dug the grave. Tons of money is flowing through college sports thanks to us as consumers and players aren’t seeing any of it. Coaches are making $5 million plus. Athletic directors and schools are seeing more commas and zeros on the bottom line every year. Meanwhile the product, aka the players, aren’t seeing any of it. That is the problem. Before potential solutions are discussed, issues with popular arguments as to why players should not be paid will be discussed first.

Majors for athletes aren’t what they used to be in many cases

The main argument in preserving amateur status has longed seemed to be that student-athletes are given a free education. And they are. It is a ticket to college that many would not have the opportunity to have without sports. However, due to the rise in popularity of college athletics (and remember, that’s because we made it popular), the athlete portion of student-athlete now far outweighs the emphasis played on the student portion of the term. Yes athletes are still attending class (for the most part) and are required to maintain a certain GPA to be eligible to play sports. The point is that the types of classes or major that athletes are enrolled in aren’t preparing them for anything beyond sports.

This Bleacher Report article outlines the top majors across the 5 major conferences in 2016. Of course Communication is listed numerous times, as that has long been the stereotypical sports major. Another common one (and the top for Notre Dame and Michigan) is simply “Enrolled in arts, literature and sciences”/”Enrolled in school”. WHAT IS THAT? Seriously, is that even an attempt at an education? Business is also popular and has some real world value. Same with Kinesiology and exercise science. and they have value to being an athlete. In a surprise to no one, Alabama doesn’t even list the majors of their players, while Auburn most poplar major is Liberal Arts and Kentucky is undergraduate studies.

Disclaimer #1: I am fully aware there are numerous exceptions to these broad-brush statements. There are players who get their degree and take graduate courses over the course of their career (which is why I applaud the grad transfer rule), and athletes who major in education, heath sciences, psychology (one of my undergrad majors), amongst others.

Disclaimer #2: I am fully aware that each major has it’s pros and cons, easy and difficult classes. The points above are not meant to knock any athlete majoring in one of these programs. No matter the major, I know students are working hard in their classes. For the record, I got a B- in my Comm 101 and almost failed freshmen Bio, so those athletes who did better than me, props to you. Rather, this is meant to show how athletes are often steered towards certain majors in order to concentrate more on their sport instead of their studies all under the guise of a free eduction being enough incentive for the monetary value they are providing.

For example, a family friend’s daughter is getting recruited by D1 Volleyball programs. She also wants to major in Nursing. There are many schools who are telling her she can’t play for them and major in Nursing. I believe there are only a handful of good D1 programs that will allow their players to have that major. That shows the importance placed on getting an athlete in a major that won’t distract them too much from sports.

Illegal money/benefits are happening with no signs of slowing down

This argument isn’t my favorite. The “everyone is doing this illegal thing so if we made it legal, it would decrease illegal things happening” has always seemed a bit silly. However, there is truth to it. As stated above, amateurism is dead and trying to uphold is while blindly ignoring illegal benefits or sweeping them under the rug with slaps on the wrist is getting old and isn’t working. Doing nothing isn’t an option. Opening the floodgates and allowing what is happening to happen legally doesn’t seem appealing and would really just turn into free agency free for all. Whoever had the most money would win and the SEC/B1G could function like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox in baseball, basically being able to buy recruits. That being said, there are more options than one extreme or the other. This could open up a conversation to be creative and re-imagine what this could look like.

Proposal for moving forward:

Here is one proposal on my mind. Like most of my thoughts, it’s far from perfect. It’s not fully flushed out. It’s more of a conversation starter than ender. But it’s something. Better yet, it’s better than the current situation.

Give players a stipend. And colleges can afford it. Some can afford it multiple times over. This isn’t a multi-million dollar contract but rather just a share of a the bottom line. If AD and coaching contracts were a fraction smaller and other money was reallocated, it could go a long way towards this. Actually, it probably wouldn’t even have to come from that. Steve Kerr proposed an Olympic Model in his recent comments where athletes are basically sponsored. Nike, Addidas, Gatorade, and numerous other huge corporations would be more than able to cover the bill.

Add a stipulation where student-athletes can only access a percentage of their money while in school. Cap it at what a student can earn working an on campus job (I believe I earned a $1500-$2000 a year with on-campus employment). The rest of their earned money can be accessed upon leaving school, whether it is through graduated or leaving early. This prevents having tons of money at one time, but also allows them to have money that any other student would have. plus probably more without going overboard.

In addition to this, for those who still want to place value on education and graduation, myself included, build in incentives for more money for each year they are in school or if they obtain a degree.

Every player would earn the same base salary/stipend. As stated above, this shouldn’t turn into recruiting free agency, where big markets reign supreme and small markets can’t compete, which will only further the divide between the have and have nots. Alabama or Ohio State offering contracts to high school players will escalate out of control extremely quickly and it would not be too large of a proposition to imagine it won’t take too many years for a 5 star recruit to be earning 5 or 6 figures to play for a blue-chip program. Some players will be vastly underpaid, and some may be overpaid, but they will all be paid and the better players will have opportunities to earn more in this system.

Lebron James, Aaron Rodgers, Mike Trout are some of the best players in their respective sports and they are underpaid compared to their talent levels. It happens everywhere so if players are to be paid in college athletics, let’s just accept very few will be paid exactly in accordance with their ability. The goal is to give the money back to the players and spreading it out is the best way to do that.

However, there should be something to signify the stud QB or DE has more value than the theoretical 4th string holder. Again, every scholarship player has a base stipend/salary with the conditions state above. Then there would be bonuses. A bonus for games played and games started. Or maybe the bonuses are allotted to snaps (or minutes) played.

Admittedly, argument could be made that the proposition breaks down there. Snaps and minutes are sometimes varied based on health, opponent, score, and flow of the game. Teams often have co-starters at positions and even bonuses for starting don’t differentiate between a Heisman candidate and a league average player. Perhaps it is production based but stats can be misleading and QB stats aren’t the same as linemen.

Again, this is a conversation starter and doesn’t hold all the answers. But it solves the biggest issue, which is players not being paid for the product all while the sport brings in millions of dollars because of them. It officially ends the outdated view amateurism and reimagines a more fair opportunity without bursting the floodgates and making college sports a full-on professional league. It preserves the world of sports we have decided to love. After all, we helped create this problem in the first place and it’s only right we play a part in offering solutions.

Your turn: Do you agree or disagree? What ideas or potential solutions come to your mind? Let us know in the comment section.