Archived Story

Should college athletes be paid?

Published 4:17pm Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bart Moss

Columnist

There is a drama unfolding in college athletics, but isn’t there always? But unlike other sports dramas, this drama could affect the game many of us in the state of Alabama have grown to love.

The argument that college athletes should be paid is not new. What is new is the steam being gained by some lawsuits and political activities.

Two major events are unfolding on this issue. First, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit to allow players to receive a portion of their jersey sales has reached federal court. O’Bannon also believes players should be able to sell their likeness and make money off of autographs. Second, Northwestern football players have convinced a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that college athletes are employees and should be able to form a union.

The debate was also the subject of a segment on Meet the Press last Sunday. The participants were Mark Emmert (president of the NCAA), Reggie Love (former Duke basketball player and former personal aide to President Obama) and Arne Duncan (President Obama’s secretary of education).

Jeffery Kessler, a lawyer representing some athletes, said that “coaches are getting paid $5 million, schools are generating hundreds of millions, sponsors are cashing in, and administrators are cashing in. The only group that is not receiving any benefit are these athletes, most of who will not graduate and most of who will never be a professional athlete.”

Arne Duncan added, “guys I played with on the south side of Chicago made a lot of money for the universities, never got their degree, came back home with nothing to show for it. Something is fundamentally unfair about that.”

Let’s be honest here. What they are talking about is big-time college football and big-time men’s basketball (i.e. Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, etc). They are not talking about UNA, Samford, and junior colleges. They are not talking about women’s basketball, softball, golf or track.

First, to suggest college athletes are not “receiving any benefit” or are being treated “unfair” is preposterous and insulting to any thinking person’s intelligence.

These student-athletes are getting the opportunity to get an education, which is invaluable. The key word is opportunity. Some take advantage of the opportunity, others do not. There is absolutely no reason why a college athlete shouldn’t graduate. They get their tuition, housing, books and meals as part of their scholarship (approximately $23,000 per year at Auburn and Alabama). They have access to the best tutors, educational resources, first priority on classes and access to a network of boosters that no amount of money can buy that “regular” students don’t have access to.

The problem is that just like many high school athletes and their parents think they are going to get a major college scholarship to play sports, most players who get major college scholarships think they are going to go pro. And the likelihood of it happening on either level is very small.

Second, the whole premise in this debate is whether or not you view this as an employer/employee relationship or a privilege and opportunity. I view it as the latter. I view it as an opportunity that just about every kid dreams of. I view it as an opportunity to make contacts with coaches, administrators, and boosters that can propel a student to a great career upon graduation.

Third, when a student-athlete accepts a scholarship, they are making a choice. They are choosing to use the extra time they would have to study or work a part-time job to fulfill the duties of their scholarship. Yes, the fact that the NCAA will not allow scholarship athletes to work a part-time job doesn’t seem fair – on the surface. If the NCAA allowed part-time employment, you can only imagine the great part-time jobs some players would get.

Fourth, if players are allowed to profit off of jersey sales, autographs or using their image to advertise, what is going to stop schools with deep-pocketed boosters from promising that if you come to [pick your school] we will make sure you get top-dollar for your autograph and someone will buy a lot of your jerseys? Also, what does it do to a college team’s chemistry when the star quarterback and running back are making more than the linemen blocking for them?

Fifth, if you pay the big-time football and basketball players, you are going to have Title IX lawsuits filed all over the country in a matter of minutes. If you pay football and basketball players, you must pay members of the baseball, softball, track, golf, tennis, swimming and diving, gymnastics, equestrian, and whatever other sports teams are offered.

Finally, even if student-athletes are given a stipend, it’s not going to solve anything. You are still going to have the “hundred-dollar handshakes” and some of the stipend money will be used to purchase things/services that may embarrass the taxpayer or donor base. If there is a way to provide a small cost-of-attendance stipend and make sure it is used for critical living expenses, then I’m all for it (for all student-athletes). Maybe there could be a reimbursement process put in place where receipts would be required to prevent abuse. I don’t know the answer.

So, in my opinion, leave things the way they are. It’s not perfect, but what is? It may not be fair, but neither is life.

If a high school player is good enough to earn a scholarship to pay for their education then I’m proud for them. But they should get no other benefits than the typical student. The truth is, the vast majority of student-athletes prioritize their time and work hard to earn a degree, many with honors, and are successful athletes. They go on to very productive and successful careers.

Unfortunately, some do not prioritize their time or work hard on their education. They go to school to play sports and that’s it. They think they are going pro. They think studying can wait. They think someone will take care of them and pass them anyway just because they are a ballplayer. These are the people making the noise. They have got to the end of their eligibility and have nothing to show for it because they have felt entitled their entire life. It’s not their fault. It’s the adults around them that made them that way, but that’s a story for later.

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