Pay for Play – College Athletics and Amateurism

Amateurism rules were defined by the NCAA as far back as 1916 and have been held up by multiple court decisions throughout the years.  Yet it continues to be a very contentious and divisive topic among fans of college athletics.  Should we pay college athletes?

At the heart of the debate is couple different arguments; does a full ride scholarship not qualify as a form of compensation; what happens to the smaller schools if we start paying them; and how do you pay them in competition with professional leagues.

5647809356_5610585af0_bFirst of all, we should start with the mandatory obligation to amateurism in most sports, for example basketball requires that a player be at least on year removed from high school, and unless they’re willing to play overseas, then that means a trip to college.  Without getting into a long discussion about free market economics and the ability to negotiate on the open market with your labor lets just say that we should at least keep this in mind when talking about scholarships.  To answer this question, yes, from an accounting standpoint a scholarship is a form of compensation, the problem is that for some athletes it does not compare to what they could get on the open market for their services, nor does it correlate to the revenue they bring to the university.

A lot of those opposed to paying college athletes suggest that what little parity exist now will completely diminish because the larger schools will be able get the biggest names and the rest will be left behind.  If you think that national television exposure, prestige of school, facilities, and coaching staff, tangibles that are already maintained by an elite few schools, does not weigh in on and attract a lot of the higher caliber players already then you’re not paying attention.  The pay for play compensation idea actually gives the little guy a better chance.  There are only a number of spots on a team, and in any model that compensates players there must be one that pays more to certain players than others.  This means the smaller school can probably offer a close enough compensation package to the larger school for players that are of lower tier (4-star instead of 5-star), where as that player may have never considered a smaller school otherwise.  A lot of what motivates college students, athlete or not, in the first place is compensation or future compensation.

Lastly, it is important to recognize that there is no way to compete with professional sports, but professional athletes make more money because they are the most talented of their peers.  Most schools will not get close to compensating players on the same level as professional teams, but this is okay because the professional leagues are stacked with developed talent, their are very few athletes that could potentially make the jump from high school to a professional league.  So paying them on par with the professional leagues should not be an issue.

In my professional opinion college athletes are the labor that drives the revenue of a multi-billion dollar industry in college sports, yet they are receiving mere pennies on the dollar in compensation from scholarships while risking permanent injury and not having the opportunity to bargain with their labor.  If we are going to recognize that they provide these schools with millions in revenue then we need to recognize their propensity to be paid for their services.

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