College Athletes Getting Paid the Big Bucks Students discuss the NCAA’s policy of allowing students to monetize themselves.

 Students Shouldn’t Be Professionals

The U.S. has a unique culture of amateur collegiate athletics, and it provides such positives as scholarship opportunities, increased alumni engagement, student interest, and distinct school traditions.

The main value of this culture, however, doesn’t come from impressive feats on the field or fun tailgates on campus. It comes from the fact that student-athletes are students: able to balance a rigorous athletic regime with going to classes and pursuing a degree. That is supposed to be a testament to what can be accomplished with passion and dedication, rather than a spectacle of what professionals are paid to do.

It’s hard to imagine that paid student-athletes will strike that balance. Some universities have been already caught trying to minimize the student aspect of student-athletes to maximize the athlete part. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other schools have seen scandals of academic fraud, in which universities sponsor fake courses or give unfair preferences to student-athletes. Monetizing any aspect of college sports will further encourage reducing student-athletes to mere professionals when the point is that students can also be stars.

—Rafael Arbex-Murut, University of California, Berkeley, information and data science

It’s Like Any Other Part-Time College Job

To say that the NCAA is “now allowing the monetization of college sports” is misleading since the NCAA has allowed the monetization of college sports for decades. March Madness, as the overused but paradigmatic example, annually generates billions in revenue. It’s not that a previously nonprofit enterprise is now monetized, but that the unfair exclusion of student-athletes from this money-making endeavor has finally been rectified.

For some star athletes in mainstream sports, student-athlete endorsements constitute an early start to what may ultimately become a career in professional sports. But the large majority of student-athletes participate in niche sports that don’t offer the possibility of signing lucrative contracts, no matter an athlete’s level of accomplishment. And for them, student-athlete compensation would create small-scale financial opportunities no different from any other part-time employment. As a student-athlete on the Columbia fencing team and a former U.S. National Team member, I applaud the NCAA for finally recognizing that we student-athletes have as much of a right to profit from our athletic ability as our schools, athletic programs, and national sports associations do.

—Karolina Nixon, Columbia University, philosophy, and economics

What About Education?

The new practice of paying student-athletes has already begun to separate the haves from the have-nots in college sports. Those playing high-revenue sports at schools in the major athletic conferences have been able to take advantage of their visibility to make enormous sums of money already. Student-athletes attending smaller universities or playing lower-revenue sports have not seen as much reward.

Last year there was a huge disparity between the visibility afforded such players as, say, University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Boston College women’s lacrosse star Charlotte North. With money now on the table, recruits are likely to decide where they’ll attend, perhaps not for the education they will receive, the coaching they will get, or the many other factors essential to long-term success, but rather the school’s brand recognizability and sports market. Many will be tempted by short-term monetary gains, which is detrimental to the longevity of collegiate sports as we know them.

—Kieran Murphy, University of Colorado, political science

It’s Not Wrong to Pay for Talent

Paying student-athletes is a necessary corrective to the exploitative business model of the NCAA. It never made sense that a college-football coach such as Nick Saban could make millions while his players could be suspended for enjoying a free dinner in an off-campus restaurant.

Although detractors of the name, image, and likeness policy claim that free education is compensation enough, they should consider a 2020 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that claims college football players in the most prestigious conferences would make $360,000 per year under a 50/50 revenue split with their teams. A great many athletes in football, the most popular NCAA sport, come from poverty. How is it just to deny these young athletes a life-changing opportunity to improve their living standards and opportunities?

This would help women, too. According to data compiled by Opendorse, once football is taken out of the equation, women make up 52.8% of NIL deals. Other sports have managed to put together a compelling products while allowing athletes to earn their worth. It is about time that the NCAA did too. In what other context is it considered wrong for talented people to be paid for their services?

—Corey Walker, University of Michigan, History

College Sports Lose Money

Despite the buzz about paying student-athletes, most commentators miss the bigger issue in college sports. According to an NBC report, 80% of public NCAA Division 1 schools charge students fees for participating in athletics. At some colleges, 80% of athletic revenue is from these fees. As people debate student-loan forgiveness, we should also focus on reducing costs. In 2017 Bloomberg reported that the football programs of at least 13 schools lost over $150 million each. UC Berkeley’s sports cost nearly half a billion beyond the revenue those sports generated.

Despite the sense of many that colleges make enormous amounts from sports, the truth is that most schools are not making enough to justify these programs. In fact, the Golden Bears used so much of Berkeley’s revenue that research funding for the school was strained in 2017. While China is producing more STEM doctorates than the U.S., is it right to focus so much on debt-laden sports? I would rather fund the next Albert Einstein than the next Tom Brady.

—Alicia Liu, Swarthmore College, mathematics and economics

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