Pay the Athletes? I say Yes

What about you? Do you think NCAA college athletes should be paid?

I say Yes. The notion of amateur status vs. professional status no longer obtains.

From Joe Nocera:

The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.

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  • Barb

    If I were in charge I would separate sports OUT of college. (except that I really think D3 sports are great;)
    Let the big businesses create their own sports academies and grow the professionals that way–I read about soccer in Italy and it seems that’s the system there–
    Don’t thing we’ll every get there here though.

  • scotmcknight

    Barb, I totally agree. And paying them is one step toward professionalizing athletics — make them minor leagues.

  • pat

    I don’t think that will ever happen! Too bad. I do think players should get paid…transportation to school, spending money…don’t know how much though. It could get out of hand!

  • I am not a sports fan and don’t really care. But as my wife was watching the Auburn game Saturday night, I saw a player limping off the field. He had braces on both knees, his ankles were taped up and the commentators were talking about his history of injuries. It is unlikely he will ever play the pros and even if he does, it won’t be long. How many of these guys (and even more so the girls sports and others that won’t ever make money) will spend the rest of their lives with health issues directly as a result of their time in college (or high school) sports.

  • RJS

    While some of the NCAA rules border on ridiculous (or cross the line to truly ridiculous) … the premise of and follow through in this article takes a flying leap over the line landing in the land of the overwhelmingly ludicrous.

    Producing a true minor league system for the major sports as in MLB makes some sense. (Then the players will find what they are really worth when they stand alone.)

    I’d also like to see the data that a scholarship doesn’t cover the costs … this must have some convoluted reasoning in it.

  • JohnM

    I wouldn’t separte sports out of college altogether, but I would end the sports scholarships. I figure there are two kinds of college athletes – those who have no potential for playing professionally and know it, and those who have at least some reasonable hope they might make it to the Pros. I feel some sympathy for the latter when they don’t make it. They might be better off in a minor league system, and might be more likely to choose that route if the scholarships weren’t there. Don’t forget though, nobody is forced to play in the first place, whether for fun or potential gain, they all make that choice themselves.

    What’s best for the athletes aside, I’m not sure whether to think big time college sports as they exist now are good for the colleges or bad. On the one hand they apparently are huge money machines for their schools, on the other hand I wonder if they are just a distraction from the core mission of higher education.

  • think they should get a monthly stipend for living expenses and extras, but not outrageously so. Most, after all, are getting a free education and these days that is worth quite a penny. There must be some guidelines, but the ones now are ridiculous. We have seen the effects here in Miami and what it does to a whole institution. That seems unfair to the other players to me. A reasonable stipend and some perks (with strict and specific guidelines) would go a long way toward curtailing some of these violations.


    The designation “student-athlete” allows NCAA schools to profit from players’ talents without assuming liability for the injuries they incur. That was a sneaky move back in the day.

    TV networks, university athletics departments, coaches, the NCAA, manufacturers of athletic wear–all profit handsomely from this business. Players do get something–a scholarship–but it may not be something that they want or need, and the player’s value on an open market may far exceed the value of the scholarship. Meanwhile, the NFL and NBA get a talent-development system without the expense and bother of extensive minor leagues.

    Let the players do what any other person can do: make the best deal available for the use of her or his talents, whether that’s with a college or some other organization that exists now or would emerge if the NCAA’s near monopoly on young talent in football and basketball were broken up.

    Not to get sanctimonious, but this sounds like a social-justice issue to me.

  • scotmcknight

    Well, the issue Kate to me is the astronomical monies shuffled toward coaches etc and so much less for the players.

  • RJS

    College athletics though, is more than just football and basketball, where a very small percentage will ever make anything going pro.

    Are coaches overpaid? – absolutely (but it is market driven).

    A minor league system that could really compete would be good – but the players would get very little, because there would be no market for the product. There is a market for college athletics, especially football and basketball, but others as well (Hockey is big here and some other sports get decent draws).

    Should the players get a stipend toward non-covered living expenses? I could be convinced … but I don’t know enough about the current system to know how many such expenses there are.

  • RJS

    How much do minor league baseball players make? How well are they treated? How does it compare to the college system in football and basketball? (I don’t know the answers to these questions – that is why I ask.)

  • Fish

    Coaches salaries may be market-driven, but so were those at Goldman Sachs or Bank of America. It is embarrassing, but a clear statement of what our society values, to pay a football coach more than a computer science professor.

    The excuse, of course, is that the coach presides over a millions of dollars in revenues and more millions in facilities.

    The shameful part is that the athletes who make it all happen get the least benefit of anyone in the food chain, with absolutely no free market helping them. They can’t negotiate, they aren’t allowed to transfer without onerous rules, they are berated in the media for poor performance, and they can’t even take a free hamburger.

    And the students? They end up paying more for tuition, while the taxpayers help foot the bill for the facilities.

    D1 college sports is a classic redistribution of wealth, cosmetically disguised as education but stripping dollars out of my wallet nonetheless.

  • Check out the Atlantic article mentioned in (8). It is very thorough and eye-opening!

  • Mark E. Smith

    Athletes are first and foremost students. Money made from sports should go more for scholarships for all students, better pay for faculty and staff, better facilities, etc. Sports are extracurricular activities. If athletes need money, let them get jobs, like everyone else.

  • DRT

    There is no such thing as amateurs now. The question is how much and in what form compensation comes.

    Mark E. Smith, you must not have gone to a big SEC or Big Ten school.

  • scotmcknight

    Minor leaguers, most/some of them, get a nice signing bonus. They then get paid a set amount for several years — once they’ve been in (I think) six or seven years they can negotiate a little more. But minor league baseball doesn’t compare to big time NCAA football and basketball, where millions of dollars come in. If each team/school becomes a business (which each is), then there should be fair wage to the players for the monies they produce.

  • scotmcknight

    Mark, I would say “first and foremost” is not entirely accurate. They are “both” student and athlete, and the time spent on sports is more than spent on studies for nearly all athletes. The issue is that the schools have compromised their mission to hire what amounts to a professional sports team that entertains the university clientele and community.

  • nathan

    No! Make sure they get full scholarships and other perks that many schools give to academic full-rides already. These young people are being given access to world-class education.

    AND the college football system already is a farm system for the NFL. basketball too!

    The amount of money the coaches and even the players will get if they go pro is already profoundly immoral in scale. Let’s not act like these student athletes are getting shafted just because of the immoral choices of the administrations of universities.

  • Yes, I think there needs to be changes helping the players in a reasonable, realistic way. As it is now, it only makes it harder for players not to cheat, not excusing any of that.

    As to the minor league idea, I’m not so sure. Hate the fact that universities are so much in debt to their athletics, well actually football and basketball. But not sure to simply rid them of that is good. Though it’s getting to the point where I might be open to that, given the corruption which seems almost the norm anymore, or it is seen that way.

  • Curtis Freeman

    Student athlete? I think I get the athlete part. Just curious about the student part. Shall we pay them for taking classes, passing them, or a scale of more for higher grades? What about our other students? Shall we also have a pay for honor roll system? Maybe Mr. Gossard should just be honest and recommend a semi-pro system. Why take classes at all?

  • Curtis, Maybe I’m missing your point, but I’m not at all suggesting that the athletes shouldn’t feel privileged for the scholarship they have. Their academic side should be emphasized by the schools. All I’m suggesting is one needs to take a look at their actual living situation. Are their current expenses meant? If not how can they be? All within reasonable, realistic standards.

  • Matt Roberts

    Hi Scot, As your former student and the father of an Ohio State commit in the 2012 class (middle linebacker) I am with you on paying the kids but the support they receive is already tremendous. Every Division I football scholarship student-athlete receives a check every two weeks of $800.00 except during their freshman year when the lion share of that money goes to the housing and board office as they are required to live on campus.

    The $1600 every month is in addition to tuition and fees throughout their scholarship, Obviously this can be used wisely or foolishly. The student-athletes who live in off campus in apartments or houses with roommates who shop for their food and prepare their own meals are very comfortable on the $1600 each month. The students who live like celebrities run out of their assistance.

    When our son took his official visit to Ohio State after he committed and talked with Urban Meyer and his linebacker coach, Luke Fickell, he was told that all his clothing for training (which is all the boy wears anyway) would be provided to him. He will also be on a training table several days a week, have top tutors provided in a state-of-the-art learning center and have a number of other perks (legit ones) that the average university student does not receive. While the program reaps significant financial rewards this is one DI parent who is very grateful for the support the NCAA and Ohio State currently provides to scholar-athletes.

  • Lukas McKnight

    It’s pretty hard (in my mind) to justify a multi-billion dollar entertainer industry that doesn’t pay its performers (but everyone else involved can be paid handsomely). Time demands are huge on college athletes, and the chance to work part time really doesn’t exist. I’m not sure how you can justify not paying football/basketball players at major programs that create huge revenue streams.

  • Karl

    They are already paid. If receiving tuition, room and board at a 4 year institution isn’t enough, take a look at the article below (written by a current Virginia Tech football player) to see what else college football players in a BCS conference are paid:

    “What about families who can’t afford necessities not covered by current scholarships, such as car insurance, gas money and a cell phone bill? Students who hail from difficult financial situations qualify for a Pell Grant, valued up to $2,775 per semester, which covers any additional living expenses.

    “Why do college athletes accept illegal benefits? Is it to provide for their families? I’d like to think so, but the problem runs much deeper than players’ pockets. It’s a lack of respect for the integrity of college football.

    “Giving players more money won’t solve the insubordination. We already have more money than we know what to do with.

    “Scholarship football players received a check for $4,143 at the beginning of the season to cover room and board for the semester. Add to that a training camp check for $150, a Thanksgiving check for $150, a $400 meal enhancement check, $600 at the bowl game, and $15 in spending money after every home game. You’re looking at $5,533 in cash during the fall semester — not including the possibility of qualifying for a $2,775 Pell Grant.

    “Football players need to eat, and universities are well aware. We are provided three meals and a snack per day during our almost three-week training camp, totaling $585 per player. Training table, eaten after three practices per week, is valued at $531 per player for the semester. Between catered meals and snacks on road trips, each player receives about $482 in food during the season.

    NCAA bylaw 16.5.2.h states, “An institution may provide fruit, nuts and bagels to a student-athlete at any time.” Therefore, we are each given roughly $285 in such snacks. After each weight-lifting session, we receive two protein shakes, which yield a season total of $400.

    During our week of training at our bowl destination, we eat an additional three meals and a snack per day, on the house — a total of $211 for the week.

    “There are a few other benefits that come with the territory — many of which we never see a price tag. Our textbooks are free, and valued at a conservative $400 per semester. Between hats, shirts, sweatshirts, jumpsuits and shoes, Tech gives us approximately $270 in free clothing during the season. Freshmen receive a free laptop valued at $1,000, which can be prorated to $100 per semester.

    The money adds up fast, especially during bowl season. The Orange Bowl gives players a $300 electronic gift suite, from which to choose any combination of electronics, so long as the total doesn’t exceed the given amount. Players also receive $200 in clothing and luggage. I’m not even including the bowl ring, travel reimbursement to and from the bowl, or the cost of lodging in a four-star hotel.

    “When we finish playing football, we leave with a degree from Tech — valued at $5,254 per semester for in-state tuition. Tutors are at our disposal and paid for by the athletic department.”

    “In one semester, the benefits total $14,551 per player.”

    Scot, if $14,551 in benefits per player isn’t enough, then how much IS? And where will you get the money to pay not only all the football and basketball players but also all the women’s lacrosse, men’s swimming, track and field and other non-revenue sports athletes that same stipend in addition to the tuition, room, board and other perks they are already “paid”?

  • Karl

    The last paragraph should read: if $14,551 in benefits per player PER SEMESTER isn’t enough, then how much IS? . . .

  • T

    I agree. It’s become too big of a business to make the “amateur” status workable. An overhaul, with some kind of revenue sharing, even minimally, with players is appropriate.

  • Ben

    They already get paid, scholarships, free education, meal stipends during the week. If you started paying, there would be no end, there would be no school.

  • Rick

    I am glad to see at least some here recognize the value of an education. A scholarship is very expensive, and pays off for a lifetime.

    I am also glad to see some here mention the other sports that may be impacted. Some of your best, most well-rounded individuals are those students who are competing in those other sports, and who are not trying to “go pro”. They are ones who bring great value to society and organizations.

    As the commercial says, 99% will be going pro in something other than sports.

  • Curtis Freeman


    All this talk of tweaking the system, as William Friday a Theodore Hesburgh made quite clear in the 1991 Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics, will simply be so much shuffling furniture on the Titanic. The continued problems only confirm their argument that nothing short of a comprehensive and systematic approach like the one-plus-three model (presidential control directed toward academic integrity, financial integrity, and independent certification) will work. What you’re suggesting will simply further corrupt an already corrupt system.

    Here’s the section on financial integrity:
    1. Athletics departments will not operate as independent subsidiaries of the university. All funds raised and spent for athletics will go through the university’s central financial controls and will be subject to the same oversight and scrutiny as funds in other departments. Athletics foundations and booster clubs will not be permitted to provide support for athletics programs outside the administration’s direct control.
    2. Contracts for athletics-related outside income of coaches and administrators, including shoe and equipment contracts, will be negotiated through the university.
    3. Institutional funds can be spent on athletics programs. This will affirm the legitimate role of athletics on campus and can relieve some of the pressure on revenue producing teams to support non-revenue sports.

    Until we face the facts of total reform, called for in the Knight Commission Report. Here’s the link to the report.

    Curtis Freeman

  • Amos Paul

    I’m in the camp of asking–huh? Their scholarships don’t cover tuition?

    As someone who’s going to be in debt a long time just from my stupid undergrad, yeah, I think that covering school costs is already a pretty huge benefit/paycheck. If there’s some universities out there not taking care of that, then shame on them (I guess). But I’ve never seen this. And, as has been mentioned, many (most?) college athletes already get their housing and other miscellaneous costs covered as well in the form of limited payouts.

    The business here is college sports. Paying customers don’t want anything other than college sports–that is, seeing student athletes that represent particular universities. College is expensive, especially at big name universities with big name sports teams. Giving those atheletes free education, board, housing, and maybe even *then some* is already quite a handsome paycheck.

    I don’t see a problem here other than (maybe) various schools paying too much on the sports program as it is. Excess profits for the sports program should be going where many fans expect it to already anyway. The school.

  • Matt Roberts (#22),

    First of all, Go Bucks! I graduated from Ohio State in 2001, and am very much looking forward to what we’ll do under Coach Meyer’s leadership.

    Thank you for posting the inside information you have, as it helps me to understand the context much better. $1600 per month is equivalent to working a full time job at $10 per hour, which is a reasonable expectation for a college student. As a student videographer with the Athletic Dept. at OSU, I made $6.50 per hour. While I didn’t work full time, the money I made did help pay for a lot. As you said, $1600 per month to pay for rent and food, etc., is plenty for someone living modestly. But if you have the taste of Terrell Pryor, then $1600 might not be enough for a day!

  • Fish

    If they cannot negotiate their pay and benefits, and be free to leave and go to another employer at any time if they aren’t satisfied, then they are not being treated correctly.

    The current system is closer to communism than it is the free market, and the student/athletes are more akin to indentured servants than free men and women.

    Arguing that the pay the colleges chose to give them is adequate does not address the underlying fundamental MORAL issue.

  • Amos Paul


    They are free to leave the school and go elsewhere *assuming they are not under contract*. Much like any free agent. The sorts of negotiations you speak of are a part of the student/athelete’s application and interview process to schools/teams. The athletic ‘jobs’ they apply for are applied for based upon a certain set of known benefits:

    Free schooling.

    Public distinction.

    Athletic training.

    Living Costs + maybe extra.


    As someone who worked my way through college as well as accrued lots of undergrad debt I’ll be paying off for a long time–I consider the ‘wages’ they receive for their ‘job’ at the school perfectly fair. It’s generally the best student job on campus.

  • Matt Edwards

    I think there should be junior professional basketball and football leagues to compete with (but not necessarily replace) those college sports.

    The football league would be only for people 18–22, and the basketball league would be 16–22. Players would be paid well, but not as much as NBA and NFL players. (That way, they can be used to having money without being millionaires right away.)

    Every player would have $20,000 deducted from their paycheck every year. At the end of their time in the league, the league would offer them a choice–take the cash that was deducted while you played, or the league will match it if you choose to go to college. So, if you play football for 4 years, you exit the league either with an $80,000 check or a $160,000 scholarship. That way, players who aren’t good enough for the NFL can still use their talents to pay for school.

  • Matt,

    That’s a good idea, in principle, but there’s just not a market for it. What drives college football is not the quality of play as much as the loyalty of the fan base to their particular schools and conferences. I don’t love football; I love Ohio State football. The problem has to be solved by reforming the current system and it’s structures, not creating an alternative system with new structures.

  • Rick

    Andy #35-

    Great point. The passion for college football (or any college sport) comes from the association to institutions (including the history, traditions, rivalries, etc…), not necessarily just the football.

  • Jeremy

    Separating out the sports into minor leagues makes no sense. Part of the popularity of college sports over minor league is the personal connection that many fans have with the teams as alumni, family of alumni or community connections to the institution. Pull that component and you will effectively kill that level of football. Minor league just doesn’t inspire the same fandom/fanaticism that College sports does.

    That said, NCAA rules are a bit draconian at times and need to be brought down to rational levels. (or maybe break up the NCAA to reduce its power)

  • Jeremy

    Ahhh Andy beat me to it. Didn’t see his comment till after I wrote that.

  • Alex R.

    I was a division 1 athlete on full scholarship, and I could NOT imagine being paid on top of what I already recieved. I got everything I really needed taken care of; food, a room, books, healthcare. We traveled all around the country and stayed in good hotels all on someone elses tab. I was never in need for extra cash. We were pampered more than any other students. It seems absurd to give more money towards athletes. Plus more cash could create bigger problems. If all your needs were met what would you spend your money on? What would you have spent it on in college? Probably not the smartest purchases.