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Should student athletes be paid?

By Rice Thresher Staff     4/24/14 2:34pm

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the idea of amateurism in collegiate athletics. Thanks to athletes like Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M University and Shabazz Napier from the University of Connecticut, questions are being raised as to how the NCAA treats student athletes. 

The Thresher has decided to run this opinion piece anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the topic. The writer of this article is a Rice University athlete under scholarship, and the athlete’s name has been made anonymous for their protection.


Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the idea of amateurism in collegiate athletics. Thanks to athletes like Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M University and Shabazz Napier from the University of Connecticut, questions are being raised as to how the NCAA treats student athletes. Should they be compensated monetarily for their performance? Or, as has been tradition, should we preserve the notion of amateurism in college athletics?

First, I’d like to acknowledge it is easy to point out how strenuous our schedules can be, but we choose to play college sports and understand the expectations of student athletes. Also, the problems that the previously-mentioned athletes brought to light are not caused by the universities themselves, but by NCAA legislation forbidding the payment of student athletes. 

The NCAA, however, identifies amateurism in a way that sets student athletes up for exploitation. Their archaic definition does not allow student athletes to receive any benefit outside of academic scholarship or minor compensation when student athletes are away from school. Student athletes work the equivalent of full-time jobs while attending classes yet receive no financial benefit apart from the majority that receive scholarships. 

While there are many questions about the impracticality of enforcing a system that reimburses student athletes for their time spent on the field, there are a few ways in which universities can compensate athletes in an affordable manner. Most Division 1 schools have television deals, and hundreds, if not thousands, of NCAA-sanctioned events are televised each year. Collectively, conferences and universities make hundreds of millions of dollars from these TV deals, and the primary performers receive no compensation for their likenesses. 

I think students should be able to unionize, similar to the way athletes at Northwestern University have, and these unions should be able to negotiate when universities and conferences create TV deals. The money the union receives should be divided equally among all student athletes at the university, or perhaps the conference. This system would help to alleviate some of the stress that the NCAA is currently under, in addition to alleviating disputes over whether athletes in more high-profile sports should receive more compensation or not. 

One of the major arguments against paying student athletes in this manner is it will compromise a respectable and comparable level of competition between big and small schools. Universities with larger TV contracts, and generally more prestige in the sport, will attract better recruits, as they will be able to make more money. If athletes are paid in proportion to how much the school makes off of them, athletes at Florida State or University of Texas, Austin would make significantly more than athletes at Rice. Large schools are more likely to be more successful and generate more income, and their athletes will be better compensated. 

Some might argue that a team’s success and prestige should not determine how much an athlete is compensated, as each athlete is subject to the same practice and playing times. In the world of professional sports, however, athletes are compensated based on their team’s success. One could also argue students must work harder to be recruited and maintain their position on more successful teams. I don’t necessarily agree with this model, but it definitely has its merits. If larger schools make more money off of athletics than smaller schools do, it can only be fair that athletes at the more successful universities earn their fair share of the profits.

In summary, I believe it is unjust to deny all student athletes compensation in the name of level competition. Student athletes are exploited by universities, conferences, the NCAA and, ultimately, broadcasting companies. Because these large corporations are making incredible amounts of money off of student athletes, it is only fair that the athletes see some of the money they helped generate. Making athletes perform on the field without payment and then raking in hundreds of millions of dollars is hypocritical, and reform is needed in the near future.

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