Turn up the Heath: should college athletes make money?

The question of “should college athletes be making money?” is one of the most hotly debated topics in sports today. Since its establishment over a century ago,the answer of the NCAA has been a firm no. Over the years hundreds of schools have broken this rule and been harshly punished. For an example, all we have to do is look across the street to the Michigan basketball program. From 1991 to 1998, various players received a portion of the 616,000 dollars that were given out by booster Ed Martin as gifts for coming to and playing for Michigan. The NCAA’s primary punishments for the infraction were four years of probation, banishment from postseason play for the 2002-2003 season (even though the offenders had already left the program), and the vacation of all of the games played in the 1992-1993 season as well as all of the games from 1995 to 1999. However, recent opinion has shifted against the NCAA and on September 30, The state of California passed a bill that gives college athletes the right to profit off of their likenesses by 2023. That is why the question of “should college athletes be paid.” should be broken into two questions, “Should student athletes be able to make money off of their likeness?” and “Should colleges pay their players a salary? My answer to both questions is a strong yes, but the second may not happen for a long time to come.

College athletes making money off of their likeness seems like a no-brainer. Both the players and the NCAA will profit from certain projects like the NCAA football video game, which was discontinued in 2014 when athletes sued because they were not compensated for usage of their likeness. While it seemed that there might have been progress made with NCAA president Mark Emmert announcing that they were reexamining the rule in May of this year, their reaction to the California legislature has shown their true colors. They have threatened to cut California out of the NCAA and are in the midst of setting up a lawsuit against the state. Obviously, having only one state paying their athletes is not a sustainable situation because it brings an inherent recruiting advantage, but then the question must be asked: “why is the NCAA not being more receptive to change, especially if it benefits them?” Their official stance on the issue is that student-athletes should focus on their education first and not being paid to play. While this sounds wholesome and reasonable it is intentionally ignorant of the fact that the NCAA is not incentivised to educate student athletes, they are incentivized to make money. They often hide behind the fact that they operate under the misleading legal term of a “nonprofit” as rationale for their actions. However, a non profit simply means that they perform a “public service” not that they don’t make a profit. In fact, in 2017 the NCAA made 144 million dollars worth of net profit on the backs of unpaid athletes. The real reason that the NCAA does not want its athletes to profit off of their likeness is because they see a slippery slope to having to pay them directly.

In contrast to their carefully constructed image, the NCAA is not an organization dedicated to their athletes, rather they are a minor and in some cases professional sports league. They operate in the same manner as any other league yet somehow they have avoided paying their players even indirectly. They are a nonprofit, but so is the NHL. They have three divisions, but so does minor league baseball. They are scarcely connected to the academic aspect of college at all other than creating restrictions on scholarships that are given. For many college athletes, the NCAA is either a necessary stepping stone to the professional level or is the professional level. For example, The NFL requires players to be three years out of highschool to play and the only logical option would be to play in college. In some sports like lacrosse, the NCAA national championship is the pinnacle of competition as professional leagues have not yet generated the same amount of publicity.  Despite the position they are in, the NCAA refuses to do the bare minimum that all other athletic leagues do; pay their players. At the very least they should allow them to make money off of their likeness because that does not dramatically eat into their profits and may even increase them. However, paying players salaries would take a chunk out of their money so it is unlikely that we will see that change in the foreseeable future.