Calling a foul on paying college athletes

By Ariel Crawford
September 22, 2010

Every year a whole myriad of controversies come to surround college sports. One of the biggest questions continues to be whether or not college athletes should be paid for playing. This is a notion that, just like communism did, looks good on paper but would not work out so well in reality.

I understand why people wish to pay college athletes for their efforts and I don’t think that they’re the problem in this equation so much as they are caught in the middle between the NCAA’s outdated system and their own schools.

I’m not saying that student-athletes don’t need money. All college students are in desperate need of money. My point is that these students should be allowed to work jobs and be paid at those jobs, not for their extra-curricular activities. When you strip away the bright lights, pageantry and screaming fans, sports really are extra-curricular activities no matter how large an audience they draw.

When we consider that some athletes, especially at Division I schools, are given free rides in the way of tuition, room and board, it is clear that student-athletes are financially better off than many of their peers and perhaps aren’t in as dire a need of payment as some say.

It is not outright stated anywhere in the NCAA’s rules and regulations that student-athletes can’t have jobs. However, there are often so many restrictions put on them by their institutions and the NCAA that players find their hands bound up in red tape and unable to hold jobs due to grueling practice schedules and other team-related commitments.

The clearest reason to not pay athletes is simply because, as the NCAA states on its website, they are students first and athletes second. While they represent their school, they are not employed by them and, therefore, not entitled to payment.

On a legal level, if we pay college athletes for their efforts, we should then redefine what it means to be a professional. Athletes are not employed by a professional sporting organization. So, if you want to pay college athletes today do you also wish to pay an up-and-coming little league tee ball star tomorrow because he brings in a lot of money for a local league?

If one wishes to pay student-athletes for the prestige, press and money they bring to the school, then every student who brings their school positive attention through their chosen medium would be entitled to a paycheck. Every editor at an award-winning publication, every fellowship recipient, the cast of every critically well-received drama production, the artist behind every successful gallery show and so on. Do institutions really wish to put out that kind of money?

Paying athletes is also wrong because it denies the student not only the chance to earn a wage but also to gain the full college experience and prepare better for life after graduation. Let’s face it. When a recent college grad goes into an interview for their first job it might make them feel good that their interviewer can rattle off their batting average or number of total rushing yards but that will do little, if anything at all, to help them land the position.

College football stars like Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, seen here, mean high spirits and big bucks. But how much is that worth? --MCT

After all, according to the NCAA, only about one percent of all college athletes will go on to play professionally. So really it would be almost cruel to pay them. It would mean misleading 99 percent of these students into believing they have a future in their sport when in reality all you would be doing is denying them the chance to work jobs and internships in their chosen fields.

Paying student-athletes opens a Pandora’s box of trouble for schools for other reasons too. A pay scale would have to be developed. Questions like, who would be paid, how much and why, would all have to be addressed.

There is no fair way to gauge these questions. Should players on the same team all be paid the same wages? Should different sports be paid different amounts? Do we pay men more than women because mens sports tend to bring in more revenue? Should athletes in lower divisions of play be paid less than Division I players?

Are institutions ready to defend themselves if they are sued for racial discrimination if they pay a white player more than a black player? Do they have enough public relations people to handle accusations of sexism for paying a male player more than a female one? Can they handle the backlash they will receive for paying a player who is on academic probation or in trouble with the law? These are questions schools need to ask themselves.

Lastly, there is the issue, which is truly at the heart of this matter. College athletes do not deserve to be paid because the institutions they represent are places of higher learning and sports do not, have never and never will have anything to do with learning.

Five and 6-year-old children learn fundamental social skills like teamwork and problem solving from sports. A 21 or 22 year old does not. So, all we are left with is entertainment.

We go to see a game and we feel happy, excited, angry or sad for a couple of hours. It takes our mind away from stress and lifts our mood but at the end, we haven’t learned anything.

At the end of the day, college athletes  are entertainers and college students who entertain us with their music, drama and art are not paid for their efforts so, why should student athletes be paid? Why are they more special than their peers?

The three-ring circus that is college athletics needs to be shut down. Out-of-control star players need to stop being worshiped and start being made to attend classes and hold jobs. Coaches and other team leaders need to be paid a reasonable salary. There’s just no amount of locker room pep talks in this world that are worth six figures a year. Institutions need to be held accountable for keeping their programs in check and the NCAA should ease up on the limitations they put on players.

So, institutions of higher learning, please do not begin to pay your student athletes. There are so many more productive things that could be done with those funds. Revamp an old residence hall; buy instruments for the music departments, purchase new computers, buy the chemistry department a new lab, sponsor cultural and artistic trips and events, build a new parking garage. There are so many better places to spend the money and it is high time coaches and administrators stopped feigning ignorance to that fact.

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Ariel Crawford

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