Should College Athletes Get Paid?

The Rose Bowl - Ducks vs. Buckeyes
These guys are basically Pro athletes, are they not?

Editor’s Note:  Connor Wilson has a strong opinion on where major college sports should head as college athletics continue to push towards professional levels of organization and demand.  His thoughts are out there, but do you have a better solution?  Or is this not even a problem?  Chime and make your voice heard!  Connor went to a small, D3 liberal arts school anyway, so what does he know?


For many years I have believed that college athletes were truly amateurs, and that they should not be paid in cash.  Many Division 1 student-athletes enjoyed scholarships, special facilities and first choice in classes.  And at every level within the NCAA, student-athletes (from now on referred to as S-As) would receive priority acceptances to schools over equally, or even more academically, qualified non-athletes.  I was under the impression that these “payments” more than made up for the benefit a school received from having a renowned athletics department.

The Rose Bowl - Ducks vs. Buckeyes
These guys are basically Pro athletes, are they not?

Free schooling at a University (where the SA might not have been admitted) really should be considered a huge salary, but there are caveats.  The largest caveat is that free schooling is only advantageous to the kids, if the S-As are really able to take advantage of it.  And my changing opinion on S-A’s ability to be able to compete in the classroom has wildly influenced my opinion on whether or not they are actually amateur athletes.  This conversation is most relevant at the income-producing Division 1 Athletics level, but lacrosse, and the lower divisions, aren’t that far behind.  D1 Football and Basketball stars, for the most part, spend more time on film, practice and training than they do on their academic pursuits.  To call them SAs in ridiculous.  They are Athletes.  And some are Athlete-Students.

Why do kids attend academic institutions after high school?  Hopefully, the answer is for the academics.  But we all know that is not always the case.  Top HS football and basketball players choose schools based on their sport and not much else.  They choose schools based on the coaches and many will transfer at the drop of a hat to get a better shot.  Academics, graduating and their major are often afterthoughts.  For these two sports in particular, I can actually understand this approach from the players’ side.  They are hoping to make the Pros and are using college to prepare themselves for it, just like I used my government major to get a job with New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (before I got my mind right and came back to lax full-time!).  This makes sense to me.  They are using college to prepare for the next level… perfect actually.

Now where it gets much more sticky is with the schools and the NCAA itself.  Some schools are making BIG time money off of their athletes, especially football and basketball, and the NCAA is absolutely raking in the cash with TV deals, percentages of ticket prices to playoff games and other sources of revenue like branding.  The colleges and the NCAA use players’ likenesses, team names, jersey sales and so much more to make money, but the players (according to the NCAA) shouldn’t see a penny of it.  Is this really preparing them best for the next level?  Or is it infantilizing the “S-As” and creating a larger potential for abuse?  I would argue the latter.

The majority of college athletics is still amateur.  Lacrosse is one of these sports, and this holds true at all levels of the game right now.  Even Syracuse, Hopkins, Maryland, Duke and Princeton aren’t making a killing off of their lacrosse players.  It is, however, something to keep an eye on moving forward, especially as the MLL continues to pragmatically lumber towards nationwide legitimacy and the game continues to see exponential growth and popularity increases.

UMBC UNC lacrosse
Not pro athletes. Photo courtesy of Always great work over there!

My point with college football players and basketball players is that they are no longer amateurs at many schools.  So why keep up the charade?  Both the NBA and the NFL use the NCAA as a minor league, so why don’t we pay these guys to play their sports?  Baseball and hockey both have minor leagues that are the primary breeding grounds for future stars and if kids really want to prep for the big lesgues, that is their best option.  Now, I know that college football and basketball are the biggest NCAA sports and that schools will be unwilling to lose all of the tradition and revenue they receive from their programs.  So I have come up with a solution that allows this to continue.

Create a new NCAA division called NCAA Pro.  Players can be paid up to $100,000 a year.  Each school would create a “Pro Sports” Major and if an athlete were not enrolled in another Major, they would be required to take a regiment of Professional level sports classes each year.  These classes would cover things like contracts, agents, team sports economics, accounting, budgeting, public speaking and other related themes and they would be aimed at helping the athlete deal with the issues they will face at the next level.  They can also be given scholarships to attend the University as a regular student, should they choose, but they will not be required to do so.  This set up would be a more honest portrayal of the current situation and would allow those schools to just go after the players they want (like they do now) without having to represent the kids as just another qualified student.  If an athlete completes 4 years of varsity play OR their Pro Sports Major, they should also be given the option for 4 years of free school, purely as a student, at any time over the next 10 years after their eligibility expires.  Of course, they would have to maintain a minimum GPA once they were full-time students to keep the scholarship.

College kids at schools like Oregon and LSU can still go to games and they can still see the Oregon and LSU football teams play.  They will basically be the exact same teams with the same players, in the same stadiums.  The only real difference is that no one will be kidding themselves that these guys are just your average student-athletes, like volleyball players, the MCLA lax team and the Crew team.  These guys will be pros (they basically are now when you consider how they’re treated), people will still go to games and cheer, and the integrity of our academic institutions won’t be as tarnished by the impact of big-time sports.  But by the schools basically owning their teams, they will still benefit from the press and the revenue, and these minor league Pros will be allowed to be what they are, instead of being forced into an outdated model that the NCAA thinks they should still be.


  1. I disagree 100%, college athletes should not be paid. As you said, they get FREE tuition, access to million dollar+ facilities, all the apparel/equipment they could want and gifts. I have a friend playing football at Wisconsin, they got a moped this year plus going to a bowl game the gifts are ridiculous.

    This focus on the kids coming only for the sport isn’t the kids fault but the universities and Americas fault. We put so much emphasis on college sports and have made it as big if not bigger then the pro sports at times. We forget that these are college (18-22) year old students. With that most of them have mandatory study times and many of them do get degrees.

    If they don’t graduate or get a degree, then to me that’s there fault and they better be pretty good at their sport otherwise good luck in life. That may sound pretty harsh but that’s how it would be for any non-athlete. If these kids want to be treated like a pro athlete then study hard, practice hard and in 4 years they can. Until then be thankful you don’t have to pay for college as many of them probably couldn’t afford the tuition of the schools they attend and get the paycheck afterward.

    • that’s kind of what I’m saying… they already are Pro athletes basically. So why treat them like students? Because that USED to be the way it worked?
      To me, the NCAA is missing the point… they find ways to allow then to get gifts and all this other stuff but paying them isn’t legit. Seems hypocritical to me. And then boosters get involved and under the table money is needed just so some of these SAs can afford to be at school? no thanks. I’ll take being honest and making ’em pros right away.

      • You are talking about the 1% of student athletes here. The majority of them aren’t pros and never will be pros.

        The other issue is that the competetive balance will ultimately be ruined. The are competetive schools who recruit based on location and the fact that year in and year out their teams can compete. You could essentially cut their recruiting legs from under them because other teams can consistantly pay more money.

        Same idea if a school spends a lot of the money they receive from athletics on things like better programs in the school, better facilities for the students, cheaper fees for things like intramurals, etc… You are essentially forcing them to choose between that (which benefits a large portion of their students) and paying athletes (which benefits only the select athletes).

        In the end, I don’t see who benefits from this, aside from a tiny minority. The student athlete being talked abotu there already receives a tremendous amount.

        • what I’m really talking about is 1% of TEAMS, not players.

          I agree 100% on the other 99%, which is why the NCAA should remain on. For the amateur athletes.
          I’m saying pull OUT the top football and basketball teams (which make money) and let them be the minor leagues that they are.

          The benefit here is not calling them students (unless they choose to enroll fulltime) because many of them are athlete-students, not student-athletes. We can either say things are fine as they are now and bury our heads in the sand, or we can look at MAJOR, revenue producing sports for what they truly are: professional athletics.

          At least that’s the way I see it… you make some good points though!

  2. College is essentially a place where you learn skills that will help you for your future career. For me I want to be an engineer and therefore that is what my major is and why I am attending college. For many of these athlete their career plans are to become professional athletes and we should treat it as such. Why should they take some liberal arts major that they couldn’t care less about. At least, like you said, make it a professional sports major where the athlete can actually prepare themselves for a future. Also they should be paid. They sacrifice their bodies for 4 years to make millions of dollars for the university and risk their own future millions for the school.

    • It’s a slave trade minus the tuition, books, room & board, etc… that they all get that non student athletes have to work long and hard to pay off both before they start school and well after they’ve finished it.

      Ultimately, we’re talking about a tiny% of the SA’s who end up losing out on anything (generally the 40-50 high end ones from every season).

  3. why would a paid amateur (or semi-pro) league have to be NCAA affiliated? What if the best athletes played for a city team and still had the option to attend classes at a college if they want? This would leave top players who only want to go pro ineligible for the NCAA school teams and let the NCAA return to true student-athletes… let the people in it to become professional have their own league, keep it out of the schools.

    • I don’t think schools with big revenue creating teams would be on board with that. that’s why I kept it NCAA affiliated. And Title IX would actually be less of a problem because these would not be teams supported by the school. These teams would be affiliated but send their profits back to the schools. Keeping a strong school affiliation is also key in retaining fans.

  4. Being at LSU i see how the best players in the country are being treated. They get just about everything they want. We also have a center for student athletes where these athletes get private tutoring sessions, their own classes with professors and unlimited aid when it comes to learning. Basically they are in their own seperate school. They come to school here and get to live the life everyone dreams of for 4 years. Paying these SA’s would be putting over the top. The Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) brings in millions and millions and funds the entire athletic department at LSU with no help whatsoever from the University. Actually, the TAF donates money to the school since we are currently undergoing a recession. Over 60 professors and many classes had to be dropped this semester because the school doesnt have enough money. If these athletes got paid where would the money be coming from? The University already doesnt have enough money for regular classes for REGULAR students so if the TAF had to pay the athletes that would mean less money donated to the University. The student athletes here are already glorified enough. Paying them and taking away money from the school would be the wrong thing. Dont we need more doctors anyways with this new health care?

  5. If you argue to pay SA, then you have to decide who/all gets paid? Just footbal players? Just revenue producing sports? Just D1?

    Financially it doesn’t make sense for schools to pay students on top of a scholarship.

    I think the NCAA could get around this by allowing schools to pay students up front with checks equal to the amount for that years tuition (since scholarships are annual contracts) and allow SA to decide what to do with the money (pay tuition, buy a Caddy, etc.) but would risk athletes going to private schools to get more money up front (Think Cam Newton going to Harvard for a $40k/year check vs. UFlorida and $8k/year).

  6. I am probably echoing a lot of the sentiment that is already on this post but I’m on the side of the players not being played. I see your point about them receiving all sorts of “non-monetary” gifts so it wouldn’t be much of a change. But, as most collegiate athletes don’t go pro, they shouldn’t be paid. The whole point of playing college sports is because you love to play that sport, that’s one of the top reasons why I love to watch college sports, they are playing for the love of the game. What is that one commercial where they talk about how little the percentage is of college athletes that go pro? Think of that. These players are participating in a sport because they love that sport and want to stay competitive in it, kind of the same reasons we all still play after we run out of eligibility.

    Outside of looking at all the sweet gear the athletes get and how much they sacrifice to play the sport, it really comes down to the reason(s) why they are competing the said sport. I’ve had several classmates who are varsity athletes who will definitely never be considered “pros” in their sport but still compete because they love the game and love to compete.

  7. SAs are already getting ‘paid’, through tuition, room & board, etc. While the elite, D1 student-athlete does sacrifice himself for his school…he knows that is the case going in. Any of us, regardless of the level of competition, knows that there is risk of permanent injury each and every time we step out onto the court or field. Just because these athletes are making a fortune for their respective schools AND the NCAA, I still don’t see the point. In the case of the big ‘bowl schools’ the athletic departments ‘donate’ back to the school to fund other programs; but in most cases, you will find that the schools are losing millions just to fund the athletic programs.

    If students were to REALLY start asking questions about where their student fees go, for example, some might discover that the entire budget of their school’s football program (usually over $1 million/year) is completely funded through those fees. If schools were to start paying their athletes, the school then runs the risk of pricing itself out of the market…by having to raise fees (or ticket prices) to a point that no one can afford to go there.

    While I understand it is a matter of semantics, it is that same amature status that still gives even the coaches of these athletes some leverage. How many times have you seen a very good college coach (football or basketball) get hired to the pros, only to suck pond-water at the next level? Are the athletes THAT different? No. Is the coach any different? No. Is the situation different? YES! The SA knows that if he becomes an issue and a liability to the team and/or the institution, that there is a risk he won’t be part of that team or that school any more. Transfer is an option, but as a transfer, the requirements may now be different just to get in.

    Like any situation in life, you get out of it what you put in. Yes, the elite SAs are given every opportunity an institution can provide, in an attempt to get them to graduation…and some take advantage of it and some don’t. But in the end, the education is still the ‘payment’ they are receiving. Will people find loop-holes? yes. Is it the adults finding the loop-holes, to entice a SA to attend or stay AT a particular school? yes. Is it the kids who sometimes suffer due to the actions of the adults? yes. SUCH IS LIFE!! Anyone else out there have parents who are divorced?

    There are pro players who skipped the college step. Some thrive, some fall by the wayside before we get to know their names. It’s all a matter of choices…but if the NCAA were to decide to allow the student-athletes to be paid while still in school, we will all eventually pay the price, one way or another.

  8. SA’s definitely shouldn’t have this option, and i think that they need to be forced to put more effort in academically. Mainly because what happens when they blow out there knee or have another severe injury early in their pro career or late in their college career. Now if they took the classes that you suggested for “athlete student” where do you think they are going to get a job as those classes were really just to benefit their pro career and they still might put the same effort or lack there of it into these classes as they would in regular classes. I don’t think that your idea is completely ludicrous and i realize it is a base thought but i think the idea of only setting up a person for a professional athletic career is a bad idea, since now you are basically restricting them to making enough money to support themselves for a lifetime in what could be a short career. Also what happens when one all of these great athletes that are almost a lock for the pros go to the same schools. Now you have them sitting on the bench for possible long periods of time and maybe they don’t play at all in their college career, and maybe they don’t get drafted now what will they do to support themselves.