Show Student-Athletes the Money
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 01:03
Last Saturday, Otto Porter Jr. shot 63 percent, scored 33 points and had one turnover while playing all 40 minutes. Any player should in theory become less efficient and less effective the more minutes he plays in a game, but that common sense clearly doesn’t apply to anyone who is on a personal mission to send 35,000 fans home disappointed. Somehow, Porter Jr.’s game never slipped from beginning to end.
Not only did Saturday’s performance preemptively earn Porter Jr. a lot of money whenever he decides to enter the NBA draft, but, as a result of the high NCAA seed that he’s about to deliver, he may have earned his school a bucketful as well.
But are the players who generate such incredible revenue for their schools like Porter Jr. getting their fair shake? It’s perhaps the most popular question in sports these days: Should top-flight NCAA athletes get paid?
In my opinion, absolutely. Whether you are a top basketball player from Georgetown, a top football player from Alabama or any other NCAA athlete, you deserve part of the money that you’re generating for your institution.
Many will argue that college sports are designed as an extracurricular program within institutions that are centered on education. After all, the reason that most NCAA athletes play a sport in college is to receive the educational benefits, making athletics just another part of the overall college experience.
This viewpoint, however, overlooks the way that the NCAA treats its athletes. Any athlete in an elite college sports program will tell you that — between practices, meetings and travel time — athletics are a job, not an extracurricular activity. If the coaches, athletic departments, trainers, NCAA executives and even fans treated elite college sports as just another activity in which college students can partake, I’d understand the above argument. But proponents of this contention forget that student-athletes are told to emphasize the word “athlete” far more than “student.”
Many will also compare student-athletes directly to the other students on campus. If the university is based on academics, and most students were accepted to the school for academics, some would suggest that the universities are doing enough for the student-athletes by giving them scholarships for something that isn’t even academic.
Consider, though, how many paid on-campus jobs Georgetown offers. I don’t know the exact number, but I can at least gauge that it’s very high relative to the 7,000 undergraduates we have. Now whose services are more important to Georgetown — those of Otto Porter Jr. or those of the average job-holding Georgetown student?
The last thing that I’m trying to do is belittle the jobs that students on this campus undertake, but Porter Jr.’s services are clearly more important to Georgetown than any other student’s on the Hilltop. And he gets no financial compensation for it.
People are still going to argue that such a situation is appropriate because college sports are not seen as a job, but that’s precisely my point. So many students have an obligation to fulfill their jobs for the university, and student-athletes are no different. They have an obligation to the university to give every ounce of energy they have to improving the university’s sports programs.
Because college coaches, university athletic departments and NCAA executives already treat players like the sport is their job, it’s time that colleges view student-athletes in the same way that they view other job-holding undergraduates.
Chris Webber, a member of Michigan’s “Fab Five” basketball team in the early 1990s, famously voiced his displeasure with his lack of compensation. While walking past a sporting goods store near the Michigan campus with a reporter during his college years, he once asked why it was that they were selling a jersey with his number on it for $75, but he couldn’t afford to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant.
Finally, there’s Walter Byers, the NCAA president from 1951 to 1988, who governed the NCAA with relatively unquestioned control and with great esteem within the NCAA community. Byers, however, reflected on his years as president by writing a book called “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes” in 1997. In his book, Byers not only compared modern-day college athletes to plantation workers but also argued that the days of sports being a student activity were gone, as student-athletes should have had the same free market earning potential as their coaches. Considering the source, it’s hard to find an opinion more powerful than that.
On both the executives’ and players’ ends of the spectrum, Webber and Byers, who were each entrenched within the NCAA in very different ways, realized that athletes should have been paid for their services — and that was over 15 years ago.
There’s no good reason that Otto Porter Jr. shouldn’t be getting compensated for lighting up the Carrier Dome like a Christmas tree.
Tom Hoff is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.