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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Some student athletes getting ripped off

Published: September 6, 2013
Section: Opinions

Fairness in college sports: its time to close the double standard

An issue that has gained stride over the years is whether college athletes should be paid for the work they put into their sport. The vast majority of attention garnered on the topic has been related to the largest, most well-known and profitable sports programs in the country. I used to stand firmly against college students receiving payment for athletics because many of them receive full or partial scholarships to schools that others can only dream of attending. But the more pertinent issue seems to be whether or not those athletes that directly bring in money to the school should be paid.

Of the 228 NCAA Division I schools in the country, 23 ran a surplus in 2012. While the number of schools running a surplus varies year to year, it stays relatively close to 23. These schools are the large universities that spend and earn millions of dollars on their athletic programs. They build multi-million dollar stadiums and arenas and have billion-dollar television and radio contracts.

I believe that the vast majority of student athletes should not be paid, as the compensation that they receive through academics and housing is equal to the benefit that they bring to the school.
While it can seem difficult to justify paying some athletes and not others, it does not seem right or logical that college athletes cannot profit from their autographs and jerseys being sold and their likenesses being used in video games. What makes the situation worse is that others are being paid for the athletes’ work. The NCAA, its schools, conferences and video game and apparel companies are reaping the benefits of a labor force that cannot always receive compensation but whose work brings in a lot of money.

A potential problem of players being able to receive money is that it can change the fabric of college admissions by recruiting into a market that is based purely on profit. Although student athlete payment may only affect a small number of students, if even a small number of potential athletes looked at admissions differently, it would change the power that the schools have and give the dominant conferences even more control in recruiting. A star athlete from a low-income family may be more compelled to attend a large school where jersey sales and other sources of income will be more plentiful than a smaller school less focused on athletics, yet which offers a better social and academic fit for the student. Finances will inevitably be a factor in choosing what college to attend as the cost of tuition is rising, but we shouldn’t try to make it more of a factor than it already is. Another potential issue would be that Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 may be violated as male athletes would receive more financial benefits than females, as male sports often bring in more funding.

An article in the New York Times quoted sports agent Leigh Steinberg as saying, “athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated. The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”

What made me change my mind on the issue was seeing the comparison between student athletes not receiving compensation and other types of students who do receive payment. If a student or group of students formed a band and performed while still in college, they would receive whatever payment they deserved. An artist or writer that creates something for a class and then sells that work also receives appropriate compensation.

While I believe that athletes should be compensated appropriately, I do not believe that it is right for them to take advantage of the system and lie about how they earn their money, as has been publicized in the case of Heisman-winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

One possible solution would be to set up financial accounts for the players that directly bring in vast amounts of money (primarily Division I basketball and football players). These players could be compensated by the school in as fair a way as possible. To prevent the students from being reckless, the school or someone hired by the school could manage the accounts until the student athletes graduate or leave the college. A maximum limit could be set on how much money the students take from the account or how they spend it. Many professional athletes run into economic troubles after retirement and do not have the necessary skills to get out of it. This way, players could learn about how to take care of their money and how to spend it wisely. If they want to take money out to help their parents pay off their mortgage then that’s one thing, but if they want to lease a new Porsche, that’s another.

This solution does not seem likely to present itself anytime soon, and there are many negative consequences that could arise from such a situation, but it seems like the problem is big enough that a solution needs to be created. Critically thinking about it and moving toward a more equitable and fair environment for student athletes will help the athletes, administrators and fans.