Should student-athletes be paid?

This year’s March Madness tournament has stirred up more than just people’s brackets. The pay-for-play debate has been reignited in the wake of the tournament’s major TV deals and seemingly never ending 63-game schedule.

The Numbers

According to Wallethub.cm, a small business and financial help website, CBS/Turner Broadcasting paid $10.4 billion to the NCAA for the rights to all the men’s March Madness games from 2011-2024. In 2015, the ad revenue alone was just above $1.1 billion. The average ticket price for a game that year was $344.

The NCAA made $871.6 million in 2011-2012, which is the most recent released data on this information,  according to NCAA.com.

The NCAA awards $2.7 billion in scholarship money, according to NCAA.org.

In 2014, the University of Oregon, which is the school with the largest revenue, expenditure and profit, made $196,030,398 and spent $110,378,432, generating a profit of just over $85 million, according to USAToday.

Pro Pay for Play

Division I athletics consume sports fans just as much as professional sports. Therefore, athletes like sophomore guard Jalen McFerren believe that those college players should be compensated in some form for their work.

“I think most athletes should get more scholarships and aid,” said McFerren.

He said he doesn’t necessarily believe that student-athletes should be paid, but they should be given more for the amount they contribute to the school.

A common argument that is made is that the NCAA and its respective schools have enough money to give their student-athletes a wage, given the high wages of coaches and athletic directors.

This point is emphasized when the salary of head coaches and athletic directors is illuminated. John Calipari, the head coach of the Kentucky men’s basketball team, makes $7 million a year, according to USAToday. Mitchell Barnhart, the athletics director at University of Kentucky makes $660,000 a year while a full-time instructor may only make $70,000, according to the Lexington Herald.

McFerren also said that it’s “kind of unfair” that students on The Orion get paid for their extra-curricular activities but the athletes don’t.

Furthermore, the term “student-athlete” could be considered a marketing stunt, he said. The men’s basketball team practices anywhere between 15-18 hours a week, making it seem like a part-time job, he said.

Students have to schedule their classes around practice times, consistently miss class during the season, take “easy” classes to lighten the stress of their assignments, and practice for the equivalent amount of time as a part-time job. Football players at Florida State, Ohio State and the University of Clemson all had to miss the first day of spring classes because of monday night football games.

Anti Pay for Play

Dissidents of this argument believe there are multiple problems that would unfold if schools were to pay their athletes.

Not all schools make enough profit to pay student-athletes. Only 20 school’s athletic departments operate, according to NCAA.org. All the other schools break even on their expenses or experience only a slight profit margin.

Out of the top 20 schools with the highest revenues, Michigan State and University of Auburn both lost money, $2 million and $12 million respectively in 2014, according to USAToday.

Also, not all sports generate as much attention or money as others do.

Within that dilemma, institutions would have to resolve the issue regarding specific player/position salary and men’s/women’s sports. The starting quarterback of Alabama has more of a financial impact on the school than the third-string quarterback, the same is true for the Kansas men’s basketball team compared to the women’s team.

Furthermore, the athletic director at California State University, Chico, Anita Barker, said that a distinction would have to be made as to which divisions have to pay their players. It has never been clearly stated whether or not DII and DIII schools would have to pay their players if it’s decided that D1 schools must.  

Barker agrees that student-athletes should not be paid but for different reasons.

I am a strong proponent for the student-athlete model that exists in higher education. Student-athletes participate in a sport as a co-curricular activity that supplements their education. It’s their choice to participate.”

She said that the job of a student-athlete is to prioritize academia and pursue a career. It’s not easy to turn pro. Out of 460,000 NCAA athletes, only 1.2 percent of them turn pro, according to NCAA.org.

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