It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that according to NCAA guidelines, student-athletes in collegiate programs are not eligible for any endorsements or prize money outside the limits of the scholarship offered by any given university.
And yet, these same student-athletes are the focal point of an almost billion dollar-per-year industry. In the top college football and men’s basketball programs, head coaches such as Nick Saban of Alabama and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke rake in nearly $10 million annually — all while their athletes take in nothing.
How can they get away with this?
By citing the importance of “amateurism,” NCAA prohibits the payment of student-athletes. Its website maintains that amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority.
Its argument may seem plausible until you consider such cases as that of Stanford running back Bryce Love, who was criticized by CBS college football reporter Dennis Dodd. He asserted that Love’s absence from the team’s media day set a “dangerous precedent” for other players.
So if amateurism is such an important concept, why are respected industry professionals shaming student-athletes for putting their education first? And if industry professionals want to treat student-athletes as professionals, then why shouldn’t these athletes receive compensation for their work?
During the 2016-17 season, the University of Texas collected over $200 million in total revenue. Its football program alone took in over $100 million, including $42.4 million in ticket revenue, but the student-athletes, whom fans paid to see, took home nothing for their contributions.
According to a survey conducted by the NCAA in 2011, the average Division I athlete spends about 40 hours per week on athletic activities, including practices, games and traveling. This leaves little time to devote to academics or a social life. And forget about weekends — during football season, most games take place on Saturdays, and when these are across the country, you don’t have much time to do anything else.
Forty hours a week is the same amount of time an average adult is expected to be working at a full-time job, but the average adult has no schoolwork on top of this workload and also gets paid a living wage to devote the majority of their time to one task.
Student-athletes receive only one thing: a degree. And some — those who choose to leave early to go pro, or those who are forced to return home due to unforeseen circumstances — don’t even get to cash in on this.
Plus, when you spend 40 hours a week on something nonacademic and have virtually no free time during the on-season, there is a limit to how high your GPA can go.
It’s also important to note that a lot of student-athletes struggle financially. In a joint study conducted in 2010 by the Ithaca College Graduate Program in Sport Management and Media and the National College Players Association, it was found that the average NCAA athlete pays around $2,951 in school-related costs, which is a lot if you come from a low-income area, and when you consider that these are the same athletes who bring in millions of dollars in revenue to the school’s sports programs.
College athletes are playing in a system that isn’t fair. In the NFL, on top of the millions each player is paid to play for their team, they can earn millions more starring in media campaigns for brands such as Nike, Under Armour and the likes. But college athletes aren’t even allowed to accept money from sponsors. Missy Franklin, an Olympic swimmer, learned this the hard way when she chose to go to the 2012 games as an amateur to maintain eligibility in the NCAA. She gave up what could have been millions in endorsements in favor of a collegiate career.
We need to pay our athletes if we want to maintain this system, because otherwise, it’s rigged in favor of a program that exploits the talents of young athletes to rack in millions.