- /Thomas Solow
25 March 2018
Paid to Play?
Reaching the end of the NCAA “March Madness” tournament has reawakened the long running debate whether division one players should get paid to play. One argument is that the players are students first, while others believe that the players should get a cut of the millions of dollars in revenue they bring their school and the NCAA. When the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was founded by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, even athletic scholarships, much less payment, were not permitted. The basis of the NCAA was to create safety requirements for football. It wasn’t until almost fifty years later that athletic scholarships were introduced to the NCAA, and the term ‘student-athlete’ was coined. (Katz et al.).
Matt Monks ardently believes that these ‘student-athletes’ shouldn’t get paid. In Monks’ article “Should College Student-Athletes Get Paid,” Monks claims that it’s acceptable that the students’ names and photographs are used on products and advertising without compensation because the schools themselves are footing the bill to promote the athletes in the first place (Monks). He believes that waiving the tuition is enough compensation for the athletes. He performs a rough calculation showing the athletes receive about $57,500 worth of benefits each year, plus free medical coverage, training, and sports equipment. Finally, Monks says that since 99% of college athletes will never be drafted to play professionally, the focus of their college time should remain on academics, not athletics. Generally speaking, Monks is correct, college athletes should remain unpaid, but I do believe that certain aspects of the NCAA should be changed in the players’ favor.
Monks’ strongest point is that 99% of college players will never be drafted professionally, so the focus of their time in college should be on academics. What Monks really means is that student-athletes should remain students first and athletes second – staying student-athletes, not becoming ‘athlete-students,’ if you will. I would contend that if these athletes were paid, their focus would switch even more toward athletics as their performance on the court or the field would determine how much they are paid. They are attending these universities to receive an education first and foremost, and that is covered for free by their colleges and universities in exchange for creating a source of revenue for the school to put back toward its student body in forms of scholarships, research grants, facility maintenance and renovations, etc. Those athletes are attending the universities to eventually receive a degree from the school, which will be the most useful certification the students get out of their college sports careers since less than 1% will ever be paid to play their sport professionally. The school can waive the students’ tuition fees because the school will make money from the increased ticket sales from having well-performing sports teams. Colleges’ main priority is to educate their students, and if they don’t prepare these students to succeed at a real job – a job 99% of them will have to get after their college years are over – the college is doing a tremendous disservice. The money student-athletes would make in four years of college won’t last them forever.
An additional problem that would be caused from a ‘paid-to-play’ system would be that colleges could compete over players by offering higher pay on their team than competing teams. Allowing universities to pay athletes will allow players to be traded, transferred, dropped, or enticed to switch teams by promising higher pay and other benefits. It would also give huge recruiting advantages to larger universities because would they make more in ticket sales than small schools simply by having a bigger student population buying more tickets. If NCAA athletes were paid, you would see big student body, big budget schools constantly coming out as champions instead of the schools that work the hardest to create top-notch sports programs and best sports-educational balance for their players, simply due to the greater monetary advantage available to give their players. Further, as a fan, it would be a different experience watching your school’s team because instead of the team being comprised of your classmates and peers, they would consist of players who might change every year, representing your school in no other way besides wearing the logo.
Further, it would be unfair to pay different athletes different amounts of money. A wrestler may be the best in the division, but since wrestling doesn’t attract crowds like football and basketball do, he may get paid less than bench-warmers on league-bottom football teams, although potentially putting in twice the work as those players do and being wildly more successful. Title IX further complicates this. The only two sports that earn huge revenue are men’s basketball and football. Following Title IX would require a “50/50 split between men and women, lest schools risk losing access to broader federal funds and support,” (Baccardax), meaning the women’s teams will receive shares of the profit from the men’s teams’ accomplishments. However, the argument to pay players is that the players should get a cut of the revenue they create, but splitting the revenues with teams that didn’t earn them would completely go against that argument in the first place. Since the women’s teams didn’t earn those profits, why are they getting a cut? Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that sports teams’ budgets should only depend on what they can earn on revenues, I’m saying that the current system, where the proceeds get placed back into the schools’ sporting equipment and programs to benefit all sports teams and all students is more fair than it being given to players based on their performance. Currently, everyone reaps the benefits of the proceeds of the school’s success. Not to mention that most of this money comes from schools selling home game tickets, meaning much of this money comes out of the pockets of the students, who would be happiest seeing their money going back to improve the school they attend, not into the pockets of the players.
However, I don’t completely align myself with everything about the current system, as Monks does it his article. What I don’t agree with is that the athletes aren’t allowed to make an income for themselves outside of the NCAA by using their fame. For example, the NCAA forbids the players to sell autographs or make money from jersey sales. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to make money from selling their name? Their name wasn’t given to them by the NCAA or by their college. Their name belongs only to the athlete, and there shouldn’t be restrictions on what they can do with that. Take the Olympics as a real world example. The players aren’t making money from competing directly, but if they make a name for themselves through success, they can turn around and sell merchandise related to their success and profit from it (Hruby). Why shouldn’t college players be able to do the same? You may be thinking that this goes against a point I made earlier – that students shouldn’t be making big money from athletics because colleges will compete over players with enticing promises higher merchandise sales, causing top athletes to transfer schools. However, its doubtful they would make the thousands of dollars from selling jerseys and autographs as they would if they got paid directly from the NCAA or their university. The reason for this, quite honestly, is that no one knows who they are. Can anyone except the most die-hard fans even name three players on their favorite college basketball team? No. Fans cheer schools, not players (Baccardax). So why would someone want to wear a jersey of someone who can’t even be recognized? However, the athletes shouldn’t be barred from trying to sell merchandise.
Additionally, supporters of a paid-to-play system may make an argument along the line of “of course the NCAA doesn’t want to pay players, that would cut into their million dollar revenues!” And at face value, they are correct because paying the players would come out of the revenue of NCAA. However, the implication of this argument is that the NCAA is pocketing the money and keeping it for itself. This idea collapses in on itself under scrutiny. Originally, the NCAA had complete control over the broadcasts of college sporting events, and there was minimal revenue to made from selling broadcasting rights. Then, in the 1984 NCAA vs. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma Supreme Court case, the court decided that the NCAA could no longer restrict the revenues generated from the television broadcasts (Katz et al.). It wasn’t until television rights were relinquished from the NCAA that selling the rights to broadcast made millions. The evidence suggests that the NCAA didn’t want to have the million dollar revenues in the first place; it was forced upon them by the universities, so that the universities themselves would get a cut too. And it goes without saying that while the NCAA makes over a billion dollars with the March Madness basketball tournament alone, “the bulk of its cash [goes] to help develop dozens of sports for nearly half a million college athletes” (Baccardax). The NCAA returns what it makes, just not in the form of direct-deposits to players. In short, the NCAA originally didn’t want to make huge sums, and what it does make now, it gives back.
Other pro-pay backers may say that the players should get paid because it will create transparency between the players and the public in regard to player benefits. They point to countless scandals in the NCAA with schools bribing players, gamblers betting against teams they’ve paid off to lose, etc. The paid-to-play supporters point to the fact that “no prohibition means no black market” (Hruby), and that without this black market, the government won’t waste tax dollars and federal manpower on wiretapping coaches and investigating players (Hruby). People who make this argument aren’t angry that the players are receiving benefits, that’s what they’re campaigning for. They are angry that tax dollars and government efforts are being put toward regulating college sports games. And I agree with them that federal tax dollars shouldn’t be used to investigate coaches and players who are suspected of breaking the NCAA’s rules. I don’t agree, for reasons stated throughout this essay, that the solution to this problem is to just allow players to be paid. I believe if we want to end federal efforts in investigating college sports, all we need to do is allow the NCAA organize and fund its own investigations. There isn’t a need for the FBI to get involved at all. The NCAA can enforce its own rules using its own money, and prosecute those who are caught breaking them accordingly.
In succinct words, Monks’ article “Should College Student-Athletes Get Paid” was essentially correct about why division-one student athletes shouldn’t get paid. While I believe that some aspects of the NCAA do need to change, such as spending federal tax money and forbidding players to profit from personal fame, holistically the system should remain about the same. Players should represent their schools in the game because the schools are promoting the players’ education, which is what matters most in the long run. Works Cited
Baccardax, Martin. “NCAA ‘March Madness’ Highlights the Murky Business Of Paying College Athletes.” TheStreet, TheStreet, 15 Mar. 2018,
Hruby, Patrick. “This Is How To Pay College Athletes.” Deadspin, Deadspin.com, 6 Mar. 2018,
Katz, Ron, et al. Should College Athletes Be Paid? Institute of Sports Law and Ethics, Santa Clara University,
Monks, Matt. “Should College Student-Athletes Be Paid?” Delaware 105.9FM, 2 Mar. 2018,
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.