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The issue of whether or not college athletes should be paid for their services has generated a widespread and heated debate across the nation. Opponents to paying college athletes proclaim that a scholarship to a higher learning institution should be sufficient compensation. Conversely, those who support the proposition, point out the millions of dollars of revenue created through football and basketball alone, questioning the logic behind completely withholding these revenues from those who are largely responsible for generating them. After all, from this perspective, the profits accrued through television rights, bowl games, ticket sales and a variety of other sources would not exist except for the efforts of the athletes.
College athletes have traditionally been prohibited from taking on outside employment, and although the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has recently begun to allow scholarship athletes to take part-time jobs during the school year, the fact remains the majority of college athletes have severely restricted earning potential during their college career. Recently, after much debate, the NCAA issued Proposition 62, which gave college athletes the right to work. The amendment allows players to earn up to $1500 a year. It was actually scheduled to go into effect years ago, yet due to never-ending reviews and evaluations, the proposal was considerably delayed.
Current restrictions also prevent athletes from accepting any kind of compensation for their athletic abilities because it disqualifies them from competing at the collegiate level. In basketball, for example, athletes that are drafted in the NBA surrender their collegiate eligibility automatically if they have ever been paid for their playing abilities, no matter how extensive their stint. This could conceivably discourage those who tried to play professionally and did not succeed from ever returning to college. Some people are also concerned that compensating student athletes would further decrease graduation rates among athletes.
Part of the reason for the controversy surrounding the issue of paid college athletes is based on the proclamations of critics that while college athletes do generate substantial revenues for universities, they also bring about millions of dollars in expenses, most of which either directly or indirectly benefit the student athletes. These expenses encompass everything from travel to housing to equipment to health care, yet none of these expenses would exist if the athlete were not performing this particular service for the university. Therefore, the argument that it all “evens out” in the end could be said to be essentially without basis in that the expenses only exist as part of the overall cycle of profit. The view could be considered comparable to a scenario in which one individual almost kills another individual, but winds up saving that person’s life. While the heroism cannot be completely discounted, it is certainly diluted by the fact that the person’s life would not have needed saving had it never been placed in jeopardy in the first place.
Another argument against paying college athletes revolves around the fact that other “extra-curricular” activities such as acting in a school drama or playing an instrument in the marching band are unpaid and so why should college athletics be any different? The opposition is quick to point out, however, that only in athletics are participants 1) responsible for generating enormous revenues for the university, and 2) prohibited from earning a satisfactory income while enrolled. Thus, if these exceptions are to be applied to athletes, then further exceptions need to be made that will balance them out.
Critics furthermore argue that college athletes need to realize that they are a part of a very large and dynamic enterprise that is essentially responsible for getting their professional careers underway. Yet those who claim that college athletic programs are merely a launching point for a lucrative future are being asked to consider the fact that college athletes sacrifice four years of their lives toward an aspiration that might never be realized. Though all college students make this sacrifice in a sense, athletes are the only ones who are not simply studying for their career functions, but are actively and quite profitably performing them.
The fact is, we already know the results of not compensating athletes for their time and effort. Therefore the only way to find out for sure if paying college athletes would be detrimental or constructive is to give it that old college try.