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Should College Athletes Be Paid?

Confessions by former sports agent Josh Luchs have again started discussions about paying amateur athletes.

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Getty Images

With the recent article in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated about college athletes being paid by sports agent Josh Luchs, it's the perfect time to delve into the age-old question - should amateur athletes be paid?

The first thing to keep in mind is that not only is there no easy answer, there may not be a right answer. Football and basketball players at large universities can be responsible for millions of dollars of income. Better players equal more wins. More wins equals more interest. More interest equals more media revenue, donations, ticket sales, and merchandise sales.

So, because athletes can provide such a financial boost to an institution, they should be paid, right?

Not exactly. For starters, quality students also directly influence an institution's income. Better students equal higher academic ratings, which can mean more applicants, resulting in better graduates, awards, and other tangible gains, all of which can influence an institution's prestige and can raise donations. So it's quite clear that athletes are not the only students who can raise funds for an academic institution.

Also, players do receive an education that normally costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's a small amount compared to what some players bring in. But for the non-star athletes in smaller low-revenue sports, it's a great deal more.

And that education can be worth more than its monetary cost. How many athletes from the major sports would even be able to get into the colleges and universities for which they play? Some, certainly, but a significant number of athletes slip into quality institutions that they otherwise would not have been able to attend. And if the athlete takes advantage of that education, it will prove to be far more valuable than the mere cost of tuition. That's why people go to college - they pay up front to earn more later in salaries.

There are, of course, those who disagree. One common proposal is that universities should provide a small stipend to each athlete. After all, what's wrong with simply providing athletes with a little bit of money which, in theory, would help stop athletes from taking money from agents. The problem lies not so much in paying the players, but how schools could go about it. For example, how much is appropriate? No matter the amount decided upon, there would undoubtedly be cries for more. Without strict limits on the amount each player could receive, the problem would be far larger than the one that currently exists.

And if only a small stipend were given, it likely wouldn't curtail players accepting gifts and money. A small amount wouldn't be enough to stop an athlete from accepting a major gift. Why would a football player stop at receiving, say, a few thousand dollars a semester when another program might offer his parents a house?

In addition, you've got the pesky issue of exactly who gets paid. Is it only athletes from high-revenue sports such as football and men's basketball? Or would the gymnasts, swimmers, and distance runners be included?

Okay, so what about a system where payouts would be based on revenue? Well, you still have a similar issue. Are payments then divided equally among all qualifying athletes or do the star players get more? And what about the cut-off? Do cheerleaders or members of the band, who, like the athletes, put in countless hours of preparation, get paid?

It's because of these complications that I believe amateur athletes should not be paid. Paying players would undoubtedly help some athletes in the end, but the can of worms it would open would be of epic proportions.

I believe that paying athletes would ultimately do more harm than good. While I may not be fully convinced that the education the players receive is enough compensation for some star football and basketball athletes who may responsible for more money being brought into the universities, it's a significant amount and should be enough of a benefit to halt discussions about paying players. Let's leave the current system in place.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.