14 Should College Athletes Be Paid Pros and Cons

College sports generate billions of dollars in revenues in the United States every year. In 2016, CBS and Turner Broadcasting extended their contact with the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament with an 8-year, $8.8 billion extension. That placed the value of March Madness at more than $1 billion per year for the first time in history.

The extension in 2016 followed a 2010 contract which offered a 14-year agreement to broadcast the annual tournament for $10.8 billion.

The NCAA states that 90% of the revenues generated through the games played by student athletes go into services, programs, or direct distribution opportunities which directly benefit member conferences and schools. Aside from equipment access, medical care, scholarships, and travel support, student athletes receive zero compensation for their participation in their chosen support.By definition, paying the athlete would make them a professional. On the other hand, it could be argued that scholarships are an alternative form of payment already being provided. Because of the revenues their activities generate, the pros and cons of paying college athletes are closely scrutinized.

List of the Pros of Paying College Athletes

1. It encourages healthier student athletes.
Paying college athletes for their participation in sports eliminates the need for them to find outside employment to support themselves. Many scholarships may offer tuition, room, and board coverage in return for participating in a sport, but not every student athlete qualifies for a scholarship. Walk-on players have their images used to generate revenues for the NCAA too for zero compensation. Paying all athletes would allow them to focus on academics and athletics without worrying about making ends meet.

2. It provides relief for families.
Families are often tasked with providing direct support for their student athletes to abide by current payment rules. Student athletes are not even permitted to autograph items, or sell certain personal memorabilia, as a way to generate revenues. Outside of student loans for partial scholarship or walk-on athletes, it is up to each family to pay for the student to be at the school. Paying the athlete would provide some financial relief to these families, which may not have the funds to make long-term supports.

3. It provides another incentive to play.
Most student athletes who play in college never become professional athletes. In the NCAA, fewer than 2% of college athletes go on to become professional athletes. Most become professionals in their chosen field of study. By offering a stipend for playing, much like a work-study program, students would gain another incentive to become involved in athletics. They could use these funds to pay for costs not covered by a scholarship. Students could save the money for a first apartment outside of college. If a student knows they will not go pro, they may decide to give up sports instead, which would ultimately reduce the income generated by collegiate sporting activities.

4. It would stop corruption.
Despite rules preventing such actions, coaches, shoe executives, agents, apparel representatives, and other industry professionals often conspire to pay recruits to join a specific college. It is a practice that stays out of the public eye because everyone involved benefits if no one knows about the payments. Using money to influence a high school student to select a specific program and hire a specific business manager is felony-level conduct. Allowing college athletes to be paid would help to limit this issue, which would reduce investigation costs across the board.

5. It would attract better athletes who stay in programs longer.
The goal of attending a college program should be to earn a degree. Academics should be the top priority. For the athletes that do have the ability to play professionally, going to college is a stop on the journey toward a good paycheck. If these athletes could be paid while they are attending a college program, then they would be more likely to stick with the program to eventually earn their degree. They could then be drafted into a professional league once they’ve completed their courses.

6. It could lower tuition rates.
Paying student athletes does not mean that the costs for everyone would automatically go up. For some institutions, the costs could actually go down. Increased competition for the best athletes would create improved programming at colleges across the country. Athletic facilities would be upgraded to encourage enrollment. Although the richest institutions would always be able to offer more, at the end of the day, most people would benefit from lower costs because the system would require more efficiencies to remain productive.

7. It could create college credits that could be used toward graduation.
One of the benefits of work-study programs is that it can supplement the credits earned while supplementing college tuition costs. Athletes could use some of the concepts and skills they learn within their program to enhance their educational experience. Depending on the setup of the program, it could even help athletes graduate with a degree in their chosen faster.

List of the Cons of Paying College Athletes

1. It would eliminate the line between amateur and professional sports.
The reason why student athletes are not currently paid, according to the NCAA, is that it would eliminate the separation between amateurism and professionalism in sports. If that line is eliminated, then the links between an education at a college and sports played at a college would weaken. That would cause the athletes who don’t eventually turn pro to suffer because they’d have fewer opportunities available to them.

2. It would prioritize athleticism over academics.
Although students would still be required to meet academic standards to qualify for academic programs, paying athletes for sports participation would likely shift personal priorities. They would be required to maintain their position on the team to benefit from the income, much like they are required to do so now to maintain a scholarship. Athletes would choose programs where they would be paid the most, instead of choosing programs where they could learn the most.

3. It would become a burden on taxpayers.
The idea of paying college athletes a salary comes out of the revenues which are generated by sporting activities. In reality, much of that money is already used by the conferences and schools to host games or conduct events already. To pay athletes a salary, most public institutions would need to ask taxpayers for monetary support. Private institutions would likely increase tuition rates to meet the financial obligations involved. Those burdens could stop some students from enrolling for academic purposes, which would create lower-skill workers over time throughout the country.

4. It would burden smaller schools.
Would all student athletes receive the same amount of pay, no matter which school they chose to attend? If so, then there would be an undue burden placed on smaller schools that compete at higher levels. If pay levels are allowed to be tiered, based on where a college competes, then is it fair for one athlete to be paid more than another because they were accepted into a “superior” program? There are plenty of structural questions that would need to be resolved before paying college athletes became the norm.

5. It could encourage schools to cut other programs.
Many schools use the funds from their athletics programs to fund other programs and activities. If those funds are ordered to be used as a salary for college athletes, then the other programs and services might suffer because of it. That would degrade the quality of life available on-campus at many institutions. Depending on what programs were cut, it could even impact the safety of students over a long time period.

6. It could create issues of paycheck equality.
If athletics is treated like a work-study program, there could be issues of equality in pay that would need to be evaluated. Some students in other programs would likely not earn the same amount as an athlete for their work-study program. When everything comes down to dollars and cents, there could be more discrimination put into college campuses by paying college athletes than the benefits such an activity would provide.

7. It would create opportunities to unionize.
Student athletes who are receiving a salary would be classified as employees. That would give student athletes the right to unionize in many states. That would create conflicts between schools and athletes in a manner that is similar to the conflicts seen between owners and professional athletes. Some participants would still be minors, which means their parents would need to be involved in contract negotiations. New levels of administrative complication would be incorporated into the educational system, which would further increase costs.

Paying student athletes creates a number of variables which offer plenty of pros and cons to think about. Most people would agree that athletes should be compensated when profits are generated by their likeness and activities. Most would also agree that university programs should emphasize academics over athletics. Finding a balance, using key points like these, is the only way progress on this issue will be obtained.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.