So, NCAA basketball has a slight corruption problem. Ok, major corruption problem. Words like bribery and fraud now describe programs like Arizona, Auburn, and Louisville. Oh, and Adidas. Once again the debate around paying college athletes is back now that the FBI broke up the sport’s worst kept secret. For college sports, money is indeed the root of all evil. Now we are watching it play out alongside some of the biggest names in NCAA sports. Should we reconsider paying college athletes more than a scholarship and a stipend?
Documentary “Schooled: The Price of College Sports”
To understand the issue a little more I watched the documentary “Schooled: The Price of College Sports” on Netflix about NCAA athletes and the money that surrounds this major industry. The documentary is a fascinating take on the industry of college sports, the money surrounding every decision, and the dark side of running such a profitable and large business. If you haven’t seen it, check it out to learn more about the concept of paying college athletes.
Exceptionally persuasive arguments litter the film in favor of paying college athletes for their talent. Both sides of the debate were presented, however, the film skews heavily in favor of athletes getting paid for playing for their college and highlighted many areas where coaches and private industry exploit the trust of young athletes.
My Reasons Against Paying College Athletes
Despite these major scandals where coaches and agents exploit college athletes, paying college athletes directly is not the answer and could exacerbate the issue by inviting more financial scandal all around.
1) Athletes are provided scholarships otherwise unobtainable by non-athletic students aside from strong academic performance. I am in favor of increasing an athlete’s stipend, perhaps substantially, to allow some financial security. A stipend can pay for food and toys that will keep them focused without distraction. They are absolutely worth more than the ability to just scrape by, an argument presented in the film. The time required for engagement in a college sports program prohibit outside job opportunities so increasing their stipends is fair.
2) Athletes are essentially interns, perhaps even employees. Their salary is their scholarship and stipend, which is considerably higher than their peers and many interns with actual degrees. I understand that their “employer” makes a lot of money off their efforts. My response is: welcome to basically every job they will ever have where they are not the owner. Get in line, gentlemen.
3) Like in the real world, countless others will line up for their shot at playing college basketball for considerably less. Athletes are living an incredible dream focused on an even more incredible goal of becoming a professional athlete. The line behind them is deep. Perhaps not as talented, but let’s not pretend like every athlete on every team is the greatest athlete ever. Plenty of talent is indeed in line.
Middle Ground: Financial Trusts for Athletes
All that said, I am a reasonable guy. The system clearly needs reformed. There is a lot of money surrounding college sports from ticket sales to merchandise sales. Throw in apparel contracts, player likeness licensing (name/number on jerseys), apparel contracts, and broadcast rights and you can see where player exploitation, I mean, corruption scandals arise so easily.
One solution could be the sharing of profits on a player’s likeness in the form of an untouchable financial trust in the athlete’s name to be accessible only after their eligibility period ends. Obviously, NCAA amateurism rules require amending drastically, but it seems reasonable for a program to throw back a little money when they profit off the player’s likeness.
I still disagree with profit sharing on ticket sales, general sports merchandise, broadcast rights, and apparel contracts as these items cover an athlete’s scholarship and the program’s operations. I welcome some thoughts on this issue as I am still developing my appreciation for this problem. There is a court case making its way through the system on this very issue and the topic is becoming more openly debated.
I’m confident that all the corruption investigations will force reform or stricter oversight. Then again, scandals will remain commonplace among athletic programs as long as money controls the NCAA. I don’t think programs should pay athletes, but I also believe the NCAA and college programs and coaches have absolutely exploited their position of power and trust for many generations and perhaps it is time for a change in thinking.