Why College Athletes Should be (or Should NOT be) Paid

The debate over why college athletes should be paid vs. why they shouldn’t, has been ongoing for several years. This conversation raises a lot of interesting and persuasive arguments on both sides.

College athletes claim that their efforts contribute a lot to the sport as well as to their school’s reputation, often boosting enrollment rates. Their argument is that their significant overall contribution is just one of many reasons why college athletes should be paid. The counterargument is that college athletes already receive generous monetary and non-monetary support from their college community. The question then is, should college athletes get paid when they are already receiving some form of compensation?

A football player holding a football while being surrounded by other players.

When you observe the sports culture at your school you may wonder why they don’t pay college student athletes like they do professional athletes. The fact is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) made it illegal for colleges to pay college student-athletes to participate in sports. But the question is always up for debate. Should college athletes be paid for their skills, efforts, and accomplishments?

We take a look at both sides of the argument – reasons why college athletes should be paid vs. why they should not be paid.

Arguments For Why College Athletes Should Get Paid

1. Student Athletes Bring in Money

Student athletes generate a lot of money for the school so why shouldn’t they receive a portion of it? That’s one of the most persuasive arguments that anyone can make for why college athletes should be paid.

When college students, parents, and alumni come to watch college sports, it’s the student-athletes who are the main attraction. When a college has skilled players, people will want to watch more games and pay more to get into the games. Revenue from college sports is a huge contribution to colleges overall so there could be some to spare for the college student athletes. Ticket sales and merchandise sales also skyrocket when student-athletes perform well so the college makes even more money.

With student-athletes generating so much money for colleges through different ways, in this argument, paying them only seems fair. Obviously, the payment would vary in each college since programs are different at each one.

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2. Training & Studying Leaves No Time For Taking Up A Job

Because of the time commitment, student-athletes cannot afford to also take up a job while in college. They have practice and game schedules they have to consider in addition to their academic classes and homework. While juggling their athletic and academic pursuits, getting a job takes a back seat.

This can create a dilemma for athletes who still have to pay for their housing, food, and school supplies even if tuition is fully paid for or if the student is on an athletic scholarship.

When student-athletes are paid, it gives them the chance to earn the money they are forced to forfeit by not being able to take up a job. This can help them buy at least the necessities that they need while in college.

3. Schools Get Exposure Through Their Athletes’ Accomplishments

College sports are huge in America. No other country in the world gives so much prominence to college sports. In his research paper The Dynamic Advertising Effect of College Athletics, Doug J. Chung, Harvard Business School Assistant Professor of Marketing highlights how colleges benefit from their athletes’ performance on the field. According to Chung, ‘on-field heroics’ by student-athletes boost applications as well as donations to the school.

Colleges that have a reputation for their accomplishments on the sports field see as much as 18% increase in applications. This increase in applications can be attributed to their athletes’ efforts and skills. If the athletes are the main stars bringing in money for the college, it once again emphasizes why college athletes should be paid.

4. Student-Athletes Are Incentivized to Perform Better

College sports are already competitive but when money is on the line there could be more of an incentive for student athletes to work harder.

When schools pay student-athletes a share of what they contribute to the institution’s sports programs, it can be argued that they’ll be motivated to work harder and do better. Just as individuals would work harder at a paying job, student-athletes too would work harder during practices and games when they get paid. And if they do not perform up to expectations, their “job” could be on the line.

5. Keeps College Athletes In School Longer

Star athletes are frequently spotted by professional clubs and teams that lure them away from college with the promise of big money. Not surprisingly, on receiving an offer to get paid generously to play professionally, some student-athletes decide to leave school early. This usually acts as a starting point for a flourishing professional career and the athlete never returns to complete their education.

Paying a college athlete helps to ease their financial burden related to college costs. This in turn may encourage them to stay in college and complete their education before turning pro instead of dropping out early for financial reasons.

6. The Higher Risk of Injury Makes Compensation Necessary

Sports come with risk of injury and the more rigorous the sport, the higher the risks. College athletes put themselves at risk every time they step onto the field. But what happens when they get injured? Unfortunately, when college athletes are seriously injured, they face a number of short-term and long-term consequences.

If their injuries prevent them from being able to play, they could lose their athletic scholarship, which is typically only awarded for one year at a time. Depending on the type and severity of their injuries, they may also lose the opportunity to play professionally. Some injuries may even leave an athlete permanently disabled. The high risks make a strong point for why college athletes should be paid.

Arguments Why College Student-Athletes Should NOT Get Paid

1. Student-Athletes have Scholarships and Stipends

Student-athletes have athletic scholarships that can cover costs throughout their college careers. Athletic scholarships can include tuition, room and board, and meal plans. Some schools even offer stipends for their student-athletes. Stipends are an allowance of money they can spend throughout the semester. By paying student-athletes even more money, you could be taking away from other students’ opportunities to get their tuition paid for. Free education is readily available for college players so paying them may not be in the department’s best interest.

2. Student-Athletes Are Not Professionals

Though some student-athletes go on to be professionals, they are not at the professional level while in college. Paying student-athletes would be like paying a professional athlete for their job. College players are one step above amateur athletes but not professionals. Yes, student-athletes bring in revenue for their college, but not all colleges have enough funding to pay each student-athlete. Professional athletes are in more rigorous training and have years of experience. It can take years before they’re paid for their profession.

3. Student Athletes Would Value Payment Over Education

Instead of focusing on their education, student-athletes could be more interested in getting paid. The purpose of going to college is to further your education. Higher education is the main purpose of attending college, not getting into an athletic department. If the focus was on getting paid through their athletic career, their grades could suffer. In college, you learn that your grades come first and everything else is second to that. When college student-athletes are paid, they may put their sport above everything else.

4. Determining Salaries Can Get Complicated

All college sports do not generate the same amount of revenue. By that virtue, all athletes should not be paid the same amount. However, athletes of all types of sports put in the same amount of effort so they can argue that they should be paid the same.

In professional sports, within the same team itself, players get paid different salaries depending on their skill level and reputation as well as other factors. For example, a goal scorer in soccer may be paid much more than a mid-field defender. Applying the same principles to college sports could demoralize the team. Experts predict that this could give rise to other messy scenarios and will eventually blemish the very spirit of college sports.

Is There A Solution To This Ongoing Debate?

While colleges can’t officially pay student-athletes, federal aid and scholarships can help fund college. In addition, the NCAA voted in 2021 to approve a change in rules regarding NIL. That means now, student-athletes can take full advantage of their NIL. They can sell training camps, autographs, social media posts, sponsorship, and more. State laws still matter and students still need to be sure they’re following them. Some states do have reporting requirements for student-athletes, for example.

The debate on whether or not colleges should pay college athletes will continue. For now, hats off to all the hard work student-athletes put in. We hope you enjoy your years of college sports while also doing your best to stay on top of your academics.

If you are a student (college athlete with a scholarship or not), it’s still worth searching our scholarship finder database for millions in FREE scholarship money.

Please note that the arguments made in this article are not the opinions of College Raptor. Rather these arguments are meant to be a conversation showing the different considerations and arguments one could make.


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