Professional and college athletes have many things in common—attitude, love for the game and hard work—but the main difference is that the pros get paid and college athletes don’t.
Athletic departments in colleges nationwide generate massive revenue and depend on the success of their athletes for income. For example, the Southeastern Conference became the first conference in 2010 to earn over $1 billion in athletic receipts, Taylor Branch wrote in The Atlantic last year. The Big Ten was a close second with earnings close to $905 million, he wrote.
The question being debated now is whether college athletes should be paid.
Reggie Barnette, a senior defensive back on the University of Richmond football team, said college athletes should be paid because of the sacrifices and time commitments they make for the sport. He said athletes should receive a portion of the money that their sport brought in.
“The better your program, the more money the athletes should receive as a reward for their efforts,” he said.
Senior Becca Wann, a dual-sport (soccer and basketball) athlete, disagreed: “I don’t think that college athletes should be paid. College athletes are truly blessed no matter what school they attend. They get to play the sport they love. I think sometimes we get caught up in what we aren’t getting and forget about everything we do get.”
Sam Cicconi, a junior on the women’s soccer team, said there should be boundaries. “No briberies,” she said. “For example, ‘I will give you a Cadillac if you play for my team.’
“There needs to be equal salaries for each player. Those salaries should be the same as what the blue-collar worker earns, paid per hour.”
Women’s basketball coach Michael Shafer is against paying college athletes. He said: “I understand the argument as to why they should, but there is a vehicle to provide student-athletes that need help, with just such help.
“A lot of student-athletes get a full scholarship to a college that they choose. They get free travel and free gear. They get free coaching and mentoring. They get academic support. They use college as a platform to better their chances for a professional career.”
In his article, Branch wrote that the real scandal was not that athletes were being illegally paid or recruited, but that the National Collegiate Athletic Association based itself off two main principles: “amateurism” and the “student-athlete.” He called these cynical hoaxes and wrote that the college coaches exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. “The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not,” he wrote.
Joe Nocera wrote in a New York Times article, titled “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes,” about a five-step plan for paying college basketball and football student-athletes. The elements of the plan comprised a modified, free-market approach to recruiting players, a salary cap for every team along with minimum annual salary for every scholarship athlete, a six-year scholarship so the athletes have an opportunity to focus solely on their academia when their eligibility runs out, lifetime health insurance for each player and the creation of a College Players association.
Nocera wrote: “College sports will become more honest once players are paid, and more honourable. Fans will be able to enjoy football and men’s basketball without having to avert their eyes from the scandals and the hypocrisy. Yes, it’s true: paying players will change college sports. They will be better, too.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert adamantly opposes this issue. He said: “As long as I’m president of the NCAA, we will not pay student-athletes to play sports. We’re providing athletes with world-class educations and world-class opportunities. If they are one of the few that are going to move on to become a pro athlete, there’s no better place in the world to refine their skills as a student-athlete.
“The money we generate buys services that support those students. If we can keep the athletic programs financially healthy, they can create more opportunities for students to participate in athletics.”
The NCAA has an appropriate amount of control over student-athletes, Christopher Gifford, a junior on the Richmond men’s lacrosse team, said, when asked about amateurism. He said that amateurism maintained the best interests and values for the athletes and the sports.
Shafer said, “I believe the NCAA has put rules in place to protect schools and students alike. People may not agree with all of the rules, but they are there for a reason.”
Shafer also said though that professional athletes were overpaid. He said that ticket prices were too high, and there was no loyalty anymore because of money.
“Yes, they are overpaid,” Wann said. “Don’t even get me started. Think about the people that work in service: police, firemen, soldiers, for example.”
Kate Lawlor, assistant coach for the Richmond women’s lacrosse team, said: “As a former athlete, I respect completely the efforts and performances of professional athletes. I believe that what they do is not only physically challenging, but mentally and emotionally exhausting as well.
“However, what they are really getting paid for is their fame, and I do believe that the amount of money poured into athletics in this country is not healthy. I don’t like the way that we idolize athletes, put them on a pedestal, and also quickly knock them off when they don’t perform well or say/do something we do not agree with.
“When I look at the differences between collegiate and professional athletics, there is a distinct difference in team culture and the overall mission of the school/organization. I believe they should continue to remain separate. College athletes should not be paid.”
All of the hard work and time student-athletes give to their sport isn’t just for personal benefit, and they should be paid, Cicconi said. “They are representing their school and the success that they achieve brings recognition to the school. For us, we’re wearing the Richmond Spiders name and when we do that, it’s a brand, you’re enhancing the brand by being the best you can be and, therefore, the school gets more recruits, applications, recognition, donations and awards.”
When asked about the pressure of balancing academics, Cicconi said that there was pressure because student-athletes were held to the same academic standard as all other students. “They have far less time for studies,” she said. “They have to learn to balance everything.”
Siegel, a junior on the Richmond field hockey team, said: “At large universities with successful football, basketball and baseball programs, you’re looked at as a symbol for that college and if you don’t do well, everyone turns on you. In these institutions, there is not as much of a focus on balancing academics with sport. Athletics take priority and when academics slip, still you’re at fault when you weren’t the one to blame. It’s always the athlete’s fault when things turn bad.
“For professional athletes they’re not even real people. They’re sex symbols. They’re movie stars. They have entire channels dedicated to them. They’re constantly under public scrutiny. They’re going out and trying to do their job. Could you imagine if every professor had his lecture aired on TV and millions watched? They’re bought and sold. They don’t matter. They’re just objects.”
Gifford said, “External pressure is certainly part of it but I think internal pressure and the personal desire to perform well outweighs everything else.”
“Sports are meant to be fun, but also competitive,” Shafer said. “With the increase in pay, the pressure increases.”
Contact contributor Rebecca Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org