Research Paper

Should College Athletes Get Paid to Play?

EH 1020 English Composition II

Columbia Southern University


Should college athletes be paid to play their respective sports? That is the question driving a wedge between the NCAA/College Universities and the student athletes that play for them. Paying student-athletes to play sports is a highly debatable topic and will continue to gain in popularity until it is taken seriously. The NCAA and universities benefit greatly from the current system that is in place at a minimum a review should be conducted to see if there is a way to also benefit the players as well. This paper looks at both sides of the controversy, why this topic is being discussed and at some potential solutions that have been proposed to solve the issue. We as a fan base need to unite and push this topic to the top of the discussion lists so a fair result can be discussed. As long as we let the NCAA control the conversation an equally beneficial solution will never happen.

Should College Athletes Get Paid to Play?

To fully participate in the debate of whether college athletes should receive compensation for playing sports you need to understand both sides of the conversation. There are two sides to this issue the first side (Pro side) think that the NCAA is taking advantage of student-athletes and they deserve more than a scholarship for the time and energy they devote to their sports. The second side (Con side) are of the opinion that these college players receive plenty of benefits and a free education is more than enough of a payment. Both sides of the debate use biased information and Polls most based on racial controversy to justify their sides of the argument.

The pro side is being represented by the argument made by Frank Deford from an episode of the “Morning Edition” on April 2, 2014 where he argues that paying college athletes will level the playing field (“Paying College Athletes”, 2014). On the opposite side of the argument similar tactics are used. In an article posted by CCN Wire, NCAA President Mark Emmert points out that paying student athletes will have an effect on how current traditions would be tarnished and lost (“Paying college athletes would hurt traditions”, 2014). This debate has become a hot topic in today’s society.

The controversy of this topic comes down to three things, should the NCAA, A) continue with the current system that is in place, B) find a way to pay student athletes to play, or C) come up with an alternate way to both keep from paying the athletes but also reward them for the time they are required to put into their sports. Paying student-athletes to play sports is a highly debatable topic and will continue to gain in popularity until it is taken seriously. The NCAA and universities benefit greatly from the current system that is in place at a minimum a review should be conducted to see if there is a way to also benefit the players as well.

The Literature Review

To gain an understanding of this debate you need to look at multiple articles, polls and arguments from both sides. The NCAA brings in plenty of revenue from college sports and the deals made from college sports, this partly fuels the debate of whether student athletes should receive a portion of this money. This review will look at both sides of the controversy and go into the reasons for their arguments. This paper will also look at a few ideas that have been presented as a solution to this issue.

Why is Pay for Play even a Topic Being Discussed?

To get an idea of why this is even a topic of discussion one only needs to look at the driving force behind most issues in American society today, money. Research has shown that in 2014 the NCAA made nearly $1 Billion in revenue (Berkowitz, 2015). Now although $1 Billion is a lot of money the NCAA had $908 million in expenses (Berkowitz, 2015). This sounds like a lot of money coming and going and in reality, it is that is why this is a major discussion.

There is also the question of are these student athletes being taken advantage of for the benefit of their abilities? In the article NCAA Division, I athletics: amateurism and exploitation, it is a topic that is discussed at length. A probe into the terms show that amateurism is defined as athletes not being paid for their athletic services and exploitation is being defined as an individual gaining something by taking advantage of another (Miller, 2011). It comes down to three sides in the end, the first side is the Pro side of the argument, the second side is the Con side and the third and last side is the group that is both pro and con. We will start with the pro side and move on from there.

College Athletes Should be Paid

Most polls and surveys out on this subject focus on the racial breakdown and show that there is a divide between black and white Americans on the subject. One survey from 2014, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), showed that 53 percent of African-Americans backed paying college athletes. This more than doubled the support expressed by whites (22 percent) (Wallsten, Nteta, & McCarthy, 2015). Another poll that is a more current version conducted by Post-UMass Lowell between August 14-21 2017. This poll used a random sample of 1,000 adults found that 54 percent of black Americans support paying college athletes (Hobson & Guskin, 2017).

Now both this survey and poll show a racial divide as part of the reason for the discussion but both also reference the reason there is a divide is due to the money being made by the NCAA. Frank Deford uses an example of the NCAA and colleges conferences from the 2014 College Football Championship making a sum of $23.6 million each and only paying the game officials a measly $2100. He argues that paying these student athletes would even the field of play (Deford: Paying College Athletes Would Level the Playing Field, 2014).

College Athletes are Paid with an Education

The con side of this controversy is that student-athletes are receiving an education that can be valued between $20,000 – $100,000 depending on the university that they attend. Research found an argument posed by Daniel Cotter where he discussed the value of a basketball scholarship for male players being valued at $120,000 per year. He was arguing that the value of what universities already provide is significant (Stipends, not salary, fair for college athletes, 2011). In the same article Chuck Cabrera stated that college sports generate incredible amounts of money for high profile universities. Regrettably, this reduces the primary reason colleges, which is education (Stipends, not salary, fair for college athletes, 2011).

NCAA President Mark Emmert takes a different view of the argument stating that paying student-athletes would hurt the traditions at the university level. He backs this up by saying if college athletes were to start getting paid many schools would have to leave Division I sports. He also stated that the schools that did stay in Division I would have to start cutting less popular sports to be able to pay those salaries (Paying college athletes…,2014). While these are all very good arguments are they in the best interest of the student or the current system?

Examples that Could Fix the Issue

There have been several examples put out that are presented as good ideas that would fix the issue of paying student athletes, but would any of them really work? There were four such proposals put forth by Dr. Dennis Johnson in 2012. They were the Big Ten Plan, the SEC Game Pay proposal, the Professional League proposal, and the Revenue sharing proposal. A very brief synopsis of each proposal will follow.

The first, the Big Ten plan proposed the students would receive $2,000-$3,000 cost of living increase added to their full scholarships. The next is the SEC game pay proposal put forward a plan were the SEC would pay players $300-$100 per game depending playing time. The third plan, the Professional League proposal offered the idea of having colleges hire player ages 23 and below as college staff with moderate salaries plus room and board. The final idea was the Revenue Sharing proposal were college coaches would be required to 25-50% of their bonuses with the players (Johnson, & Acquaviva, 2012).

There is also one idea from an economist Andy Schwarz that a free market would help reallocate monies flowing into larger raises for coaches and facilities into players pockets. A comment from fellow economist Andrew Zimbalist stated that If the they are considered students and amateurs, then paying coaches million just doesn’t make sense ethically. Zimbalist proposed an idea that would allow athletes to earn extra money through sponsorship agreements and the sale of merchandise. He stated that it would promote a more competitive balance across the colleges which hopefully would be a good thing. . .. also, it would possibly save tens of millions for school budget (Hobson & Guskin, 2017). For either of these ideas to come to into place it would require a court ruling or legislation.


Student-Athletes should not get paid to play their sports. While studying up on this topic it is clear that colleges already provide a significant amount to college athletes (Stipends, not salary, fair for college athletes, 2011). The scholarship in this day and age is being devalued every year (Stipends, not salary, fair for college athletes, 2011). The focus for these young recruits coming in is less about education and more about what they receive for their service and what can push them to that next level, i.e. “The Pros”. They see the salaries that are being received by college coaches, the facilities that are being renovated almost annually and wonder why are we not receiving some type of remuneration for the efforts that they are putting in. It is hard to argue that student players shouldn’t receive something to help offset the time and their efforts but first we should come together and agree what is best for both the student and the university.

Research on this topic has proven to be biased at best making this a highly debatably topic as it should be, but out right paying college students because they play a popular sport is downright wrong. A review of several polls shows a deep divide of racial preference on the subject. One poll showed that over 50% of black Americans back paying college students (Wallsten, Nteta, & McCarthy, 2015) while a similar poll shows that the white American population surveyed opposed paying college students at a rate of almost 60% (Hobson & Guskin, 2017). This is just one example of the biased view on the topic. There should be a way to benefit both parties where student-athletes are not getting out right paid to play but receive something for the time and effort put into the sport that takes away from their education.

The scholarships being given should be revised to benefit both the NCAA/University and the student athlete. Current scholarships for college players are expensive depending on the school and the division in which is being played. One example is a university basketball scholarship for a male player being valued at $120,000 (Stipends, not salary, fair for college athletes, 2011). Now this is a lot of money for an education but when you see that the NCAA and universities made almost $1 Billion in revenue 2014 (Berkowitz, 2015) it makes you wonder is there an uneven balance between the two? The importance of the educational benefits should be increased and become more of a focus in these scholarships but a way to benefit both parties is what is needed most.

The NCAA and universities should not benefit so greatly off of the student-athletes without finding a way to equalize or fix the current system that is in place. Currently college-athletes are being exploited by the NCAA and their universities (Miller, 2011), it is plain and simple. Students these day have signed up to play at college less for the education and more to improve their skills as well as to increase their likelihood of becoming a professional at their preferred sport. With this in mind we should shift our view of the system that is in place. We see college students and think they should not be making millions of dollars at their age but when we see child actors doing the same thing we don’t blink an eye (Hobson & Guskin, 2017). With this train of thought in mind it is an easy thing to see, a way to benefit both the student and the governing body needs to be found. There are several proposals out on this topic but it will take us a society to stand together and say a change is needed.


The controversy with this topic is whether student athletes should be receiving pay to play or rather for the efforts they put into their sport. This topic needs to be brought to the forefront due to the issues it is generating in today’s society. What if we started paying college players similar to the way we pay pro athletes, would it ruin college athletics? In a simple form yes, it would. Paying collage players to play their sports is just not the way to go. We as a fan base need to unite and push this topic to the top of the discussion lists so a fair result can be discussed. As long as we let the NCAA control the conversation an equally beneficial solution will never happen. Paying student-athletes to play is not the way to go but taking advantage of them to benefit a major corporation is also not fair to these same athletes. A solution must be found and it has to be done where it doesn’t change the sports we the fans love.

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