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Why Aren’t College Athletes Paid?


American college sports is a multi-billion dollar industry. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association refuses to allow student-athletes to be paid. Some experts believe this is because the organization wants to continue to control the exploitation of athletes for their own benefit.

Since 2003, the college sports industry’s profits have skyrocketed, jumping from $4 billion in 2003 to over $14 billion in 2018. Despite this growth, barely any of the money has trickled down to the athletes filling the stadiums. 

“The NCAA is broken. I am a big college sports fan, but I think most fans recognize that the NCAA today isn’t acting in the best interest of many student-athletes. College sports has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry where everyone’s getting rich except the students actually doing the work. Frankly, it’s a civil rights issue that no one is talking about. That’s why I’m speaking out,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a staunch college athlete advocate, in a press release.

The students most affected by the NCAA rules that prohibit athletes from receiving any forms of payment from their school, besides scholarships or outside sources, are from low-income households. In some cases, talented athletes have had to skip playing college sports in order to pursue other careers or migrate to overseas sports markets where they have the ability to be paid, according to Timothy Nevius, a sports attorney and college athlete advocate with the College Athlete Advocacy Initiative.

“The economics of the system and the inability to actually profit off your participation in the enterprise has certainly played into people’s decisions to skip college and choose other solutions,” he said to The College Post.

Also, there are many additional costs associated with being a student-athlete, such as getting second opinions on injuries, that scholarships do not cover, claims Nevius.

“There’s plenty of college athletes that pay out of pocket for a number of things,” he said.

Low-income students who do not have the ability to absorb extra costs may also struggle to find the time to work a part-time job to supplement their scholarship, because of their intense schedule. According to an NCAA study, college athletes average over 40 hours per week on athletic commitments while in-season. However, other studies have shown that athletes can spend up to 60 hours per week on activities related to their sport. 

In recent years there have been some changes to scholarships for athletes including the addition of the cost of attendance stipend, which is a $3,000 to $5,000 cash grant that students can use to cover extra expenses not covered by their scholarships. However, it is up to each school how to allocate the stipend, with some not giving it at all. This means that there is still a large portion of student-athletes not receiving any extra money outside their tuition, housing, and books scholarships.

Additionally, not every sport is equal when it comes to the scholarships they provide. The majority of NCAA regulated sports do not give out full-ride scholarships. This means that athletes who participate in sports such as swimming and diving, beach volleyball, and track and field, usually only receive partial scholarships. According to the NCAA most student-athletes in collegiate sports do not have full scholarships and only receive a portion of tuition, housing, and books. 

“Although there have been recent changes in the last couple of years that have allowed for … a scholarship to include up to the cost of attendance, not everyone receives that. There are partial scholarships and there’s plenty of athletes that don’t receive the full cost of attendance. But even with the full cost of attendance, there are still shortfalls in a number of areas,” said Nevius. 

However, not everyone is struggling in the college sports industry. The salaries for coaches at the helm of athletics programs have steadily increased along with the industry’s profits. In 2018, the five biggest sporting conference’s 4,400 coaches earned a combined $1.2 billion, whereas financial aid for the 45,000 student-athletes in those conferences was only $936 million. 

“The current system does more to advance the financial interests of broadcasters, apparel companies, and athletic departments than it does for the student-athletes who provide the product from which everyone else profits,” said Murphy in a report released earlier this year.

In California, legislation is working its way through the state government to help ease the financial burden for student-athletes. The bill will allow students to use their name, image, and likeness to promote and endorse products for outside companies, something that the NCAA currently prohibits.

The NCAA, however, has spoken out against this bill, claiming that allowing students to be paid would create unfair advantages for different schools and conferences.

“[W]hen contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist,” said NCAA President Mark Emmet in a letter to the California committee pushing for the bill.

Nevius believes that the NCAA’s reasoning for not supporting the bill is incorrect.

“It’s important to understand, as it stands right now, certain schools already have significant advantages over other schools and it plays out in the recruiting battles every single year. There is no doubt the University of Alabama and Ohio State University are recruiting the top athletes in their sport and they have an advantage over the schools that are not as prominent of programs in those sports,” he said.

By allowing schools to create deals between companies and athletes, Nevius thinks that this could aid in balancing out the playing field and actually enhance college sports because smaller schools with less prominent athletics programs could have a chance at recruiting high profile athletes. He also believes the NCAA’s strong opposition to paying athletes is due to them not wanting to relinquish their hold over the college sports industry.

“It’s control. They want to control the athletes, they want to control the money, and they want to control who earns that money. That’s the long and short of it,” he said. “It’s about continuing to have the ability to exploit the athletes as they wish, for massive profits.”

Athletes in Revenue Generating Sports Lack Access to Academic Support

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