Stat Check: Should College Students Be Paid to Play?

With less than a week until the Championship Games of the men’s and women’s basketball seasons, I was interested in a certain debate: should college students be paid to play?

Recently, The Huffington Post investigated the issue and according to five sports economists, the NCAA and its member institutions could afford to pay student-athletes. “The money is already there,” Rodney Fort, a sports economist and professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, said. He cited that last year alone, the NCAA’s revenue reached nearly one billion dollars while the top athletic programs can easily bring in 10s of millions.

Noting that so much money is coming in, it should be highlighted that these programs are non-profits and so must spend every cent. David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University explains that “their [the schools’] incentive is to spend every cent that comes in. That doesn’t mean they aren’t making money. That just means they spent all of it.”

“Schools quite often move around or spend money to basically get rid of excess revenue – what would be called profit in a profit-making corporation,” Michael Leeds, a professor of economics at Temple University, said. “[That’s why] you have several coaches [in the NCAA] getting paid NFL money, despite working for an enterprise that really does not match what the New England Patriots and the New York Giants take in.”

According to a recent article by Deadspin, the highest-paid state employee is most often the football coach at the largest state school. In all, the list includes 27 football coaches, 13 basketball coaches and only 11 non-coaches. These coaches are often paid directly from team revenue.

Ironically, the coaches are receiving money earned by the team, while the student-athletes are largely ignored. It is hard to understand why the man watching the game gets paid huge sums, while the ones running around on the court, field or track between classes and other commitments a college student may have are not.

In New Jersey, attorney Jeffrey Kessler has filed an antitrust suit against the NCAA, contending that college athletes deserve a salary, as stated by a recent Time’s article. He filed on behalf of Martin Jenkins, a former Clemson football player. If Kessler wins when this case goes to trial this fall, college sports would soon become a “mini NFL draft,” according to William Kirwan, the chancellor of the University of Maryland system.

While this system would certainly grant monetary benefits for the student-atheletes, Time magazine suggests that it could raise other students’ fees or, potentially, scale back their athletics programs. Reducing athletics, “would be the rational approach,” Kirwan said. “But when it comes to college athletics, rationality doesn’t often prevail,” he said. “There are so many societal pressures.”

Frankly, there seems to be no good solution. Currently, the NCAA and university athletic departments are making billions of dollars off of college students’ sweat. Are they being compensated enough in return? The numbers don’t suggest so. On the other hand, if college students are paid, it would most likely negatively affect other students, some with no interest in college sports. Where can the line be drawn in a society obsessed with profit?


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