Week 3 of college football is in the books, and a season’s worth of scandal has already drifted ominously into the limelight, casting yet another dark cloud over top-flight FBS programs. The typical rule-breaking archetypes are all present: the superstar quarterback caught signing gear for money (played by Heisman winner Johnny Manziel), the player that accepts illegal benefits from agents and financial advisers (four former and one current SEC football players) and the top tier program whose past recruiting violations have finally come to light (Oklahoma State during the Les Miles era). Though the specific circumstances of these cases are different, they are united by the virtue that they all raise one interesting question: Should college athletes in revenue-making sports be paid for their efforts?
This issue is complex and prone to differing variables depending on the sport and the school in question, and the logic behind both sides of the debate is certainly understandable. Those against paying athletes point out that most are already receiving monetary benefit for their talents via scholarship money. This, combined with priority access in scheduling classes and the rock star adulation on campus that comes with being a top-tier football or basketball player, are reward enough in their eyes. It is also worth noting that although big-time athletes bring in considerable revenue in the form of jersey and ticket sales, fellow students and alumni are often the ones shelling out the cash, making them just as important to the financial viability of the college sports industry.

When you consider the cost of tuition today, it makes perfect sense to say that athletes in big time sports are getting paid handsomely for their exploits on the playing field. On the other hand, the considerable monetary benefits afforded by free tuition still pale in comparison to the massive profits that football and basketball programs rake in for their schools. If the players are putting in the extra hours outside of the classroom that their peers would be using to get jobs, and if these extra hours produce a lot of revenue for the school and the economy as a whole, then why can’t Division I college football and basketball be treated like a job – with salary, benefits and the like? Furthermore, if these players could be making full-time athletic salaries if they went into the pro leagues, should they not be compensated whilst they remain in the college ranks?

Ultimately, however, there are two important points that make organized monetary payment to college athletes a tough sell. First, there is the simple fact that the athletes need the universities more than the universities need them. College sports can get some athletes into schools they normally may not be able to afford or get into based on merit alone, giving them the opportunity to pursue any career they choose — be it in sports or another industry. Those looking to play professionally are almost unilaterally improving their odds at success by developing physically and mentally from the college path; the NFL is too vicious and challenging for any player coming out of high school, so the three mandatory years in college before entering the league are both fair and essential to the success of prospective NFL players. The NCAA is not exploiting MLB and NHL hopefuls either, as they can choose to enter the draft right out of high school; if they choose to attend college, it means that they need college to develop their skills. The only players that could legitimately complain that the NCAA is exploiting them or costing them money are the select few high school basketball players that are ready to play in the NBA. When commissioner David Stern instituted a misguided policy in 2005 that made players wait one year after high school to enter the draft, it forced some into a college system that they did not need, costing them at least one year of an NBA salary. Still, this affects an infinitely small population of college athletes — essentially those of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James caliber. In the grand scheme of things, that lost year is not going to concern them after a decade in the NBA.

The other flaw in paying college athletes is drawing the line in regards to how much to pay each athlete. Surely monetary distinctions would have to be made across different sports according to how much each program makes their respective schools, but this would logically lead to quantifying how much value each athlete adds individually on each team. This all would make logical sense from a business standpoint, but it also would promote animosity and resentment between different teams and even among teammates. College athletics are no longer the innocent amateur institutions they once were, but the focus should still be on being a student first, and therefore a positive member of one’s academic community; if the NCAA were to abandon this principle, what would be the point of having college sports teams at all? It would be better to get rid of the illusion altogether and just set up semi-professional or second-tier professional leagues.

In the end, college athletics will continue to evolve, but the founding concept of amateurism should remain unchanged.

Darius Majd is a junior in the College. THE SPORTING LIFE appears every Tuesday.

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