Northwestern university quarterback Kain Colter is leading his Wildcats teammates in an effort to organize a NCAA football players union.
The National Labor Relations Board is currently hearing arguments on the matter and will decide whether or not student athletes are considered employees and should be paid salaries for their work on the gridiron.
For their part, I can see the argument that student athletes in favor of being paid are making. The NCAA brings in billions of dollars a year in revenue, and universities also make a buck off their students by selling tickets to events and selling merchandise such as player jerseys.
The obvious argument against the paying of college athletes is that they are, in fact, getting paid. Athletes often receive scholarships from their schools to cover things like tuition, meal plans, books, and residency.
However, proponents of the paying of college athletes claim that they hardly get a “free” education but that they earn it with twenty hours a week in practices and work outs. Dan Hawkins, former college football player and coach said that “athletes work 49 weeks a year. That is longer than any student has to be in classes. Being an athlete is a job.”
However, I do not believe that these athletes know exactly how much money is being spent on them by the schools that they attend.
According to Iowa State University, the average annual cost to the university per student athlete on full scholarship is $62,713. That amount is divided up into multiple parts. About half goes to out of state full scholarships, tuition and room and board. $4,683 is spent for books and academic support, $4,151 for sports medicine and athletic training, and $5,522 for strength and conditioning and nutrition. In addition, $1,875 goes toward uniforms and equipment, and $18,123 is set aside for team travel.
The problem with paying student athletes is that their motivation for deciding what school to attend will no longer be about their education, but who can offer them the most.
Of course, it’s not like this wasn’t already the case. Most high-caliber high-school athletes do not care about the educational opportunities a school can provide them with when deciding on what school to attend.
They care about the athletic program, and whether or not this program offers them the best chance of becoming a professional athlete. I do not believe student athletes should be paid. Getting paid to play a sport makes you a professional athlete. Playing football or basketball or soccer or any sport for a school is not a job, it’s a commitment.
Think of college athletics like an internship. Student athletes that plan on going pro should consider playing on a college team to be work experience.
Just like an academically-focused student would put down an internship on their resume, student athletes should consider playing on a team to be a similar experience. After all, not many team sports athletes make it to the pros without playing college ball. Playing a college sport is much like having an internship.
It would be difficult for a college student to get a job without an internship (most of which are unpaid), just as it would be difficult for an athlete to go into a professional league without having played at the college level.