One of my first revelations during my college experience was how much time many student athletes commit to their sport. Oftentimes, these athletes have their entire day planned in advance. Each day can include grueling workouts, practices, study sessions, meetings, classes, and much more. In return, they are typically offered varying levels of scholarships, but a growing percentage of the public believes this is not enough. In a 2017 poll, 60% of the public agreed that scholarships are sufficient pay for college athletes, down from 71% in 2013. Although the opinion is shifting, there are still too many issues that need to be solved before the NCAA should allow colleges to pay athletes.
The conversation usually revolves around the amount of money schools earn from their star football and basketball players. Alabama football profited $45.9 million last year, so it seems fair that the athletes who were responsible for earning that revenue should receive a portion of it. But this begs many questions, including: should just the sports making a profit pay their players? Should only the star athletes be paid, or should the entire team earn a wage? How much money does each player earn? How will colleges comply with the Title IX law by providing equal opportunities to play and proportional athletic scholarship dollars to women and men? The answers to these questions can be debated if the athletic department is profitable, but the majority of college athletics are heavily subsidized. If some colleges begin to pay their athletes, it will decrease the money being put back into the programs, possibly resulting in a decline in the quality of the facilities at these schools. It also puts more pressure on the schools not profiting from their athletics programs to focus their attention to specifically money-making sports, reducing the variety of programs offered and ultimately benefiting a smaller proportion of students.
College athletics provides opportunities to receive an education in hopes of landing a job. The large majority of college athletes will never have an opportunity to play professionally, but they are receiving an education in return for their athletic effort. Paying student athletes with additional funds could vastly alter the reason for attending college, creating a wider gap between being an athlete and being a student.
Some of the steps the NCAA has taken to decrease the number of regulations imposed on athletic programs represent progress toward bettering the student athlete experience. I believe this is the proper approach to combating the struggles of student athletes and avoids creating a bidding war for the best athletes. Allowing athletes to play professionally without attending college and receiving money from selling merchandise with their name or likeness would be good steps towards player freedom, but there are too many questions that need to be answered before college athletes should receive paychecks.