The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) was founded in 1906 to serve as a governing commision for college athletics and to “keep college athletes safe.” At the time, it was a relatively small organization. Today, NCAA sanctioned intercollegiate athletics are an $11 billion industry. March Madness, the annual Division One basketball tournament famous for its Cinderella stories and bracket challenges, raked in over $1 billion in revenue last year alone from media rights, ticket sales, sponsorships and advertisements. As a non-profit organization, ncaa.org states that “all but four percent of NCAA revenue is either returned directly to member conferences and institutions or used to support championships and programs that benefit student athletes.”

NCAA revenue is extremely beneficial for university athletic departments and their respective conferences, yet its direct benefit to athletes is not as apparent. So how do college athletes benefit from NCAA revenue? For starters, student athletes, including those here at MSU, can receive athletic scholarships that award them free tuition and tutors, as well as state of the art equipment. That sounds very altruistic on the surface, yet for top profile athletes, especially football and basketball players, NCAA rules can be more restraining than beneficial, leading to universities illegally paying players to compete.

The proof of this has been uncovered on the front page of newspapers for decades and the severity of these scandals speak for themselves. In 1987, the NCAA awarded Southern Methodist University the death penalty, the harshest penalty a school can receive, which prohibited it from having a football team for two years. In 2010, former USC running back Reggie Bush had to forfeit the Heisman Trophy he won in 2005. Just last week, University of Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing illegal activity over a current star basketball player on his team. While all of these scandals occurred years apart, there is one commonality surrounding all three: university departments illegally paying star athletes large sums of money.

Currently, NCAA athletes are not allowed to be paid for their athletic endeavors. As a rule, student athletes cannot receive financial benefits not given to all other students at a respective university. This fact results in an appalling dichotomy: athletic programs making millions of dollars off of athletes who make no money themselves. The NCAA denies athletes their right to their own free market value while coaches, school administrators, and even other students are free to pursue their financial dreams in whichever way they want. No wonder so much undercover bribery exists.

It is time for student athletes to be paid. Of course the logistics of this would be complicated due to Title IX regulations, yet this is the only fair way to prevent all of the complicit activity that athletic programs have already been engaging in for decades. College athletes maintain a rigorous athletic routine, one that often hinders their ability to engage fully in the classroom, yet less than two percent college athletes turn professional. Because their free education often isn’t prioritized and their athletic endeavors won’t likely pay off anyway, it is only fair to give these athletes some financial compensation for the entertainment they provide us with.