“Student Athletes Should be Paid as University Employees.” Debunking the Most Common Arguments as to Why

In an article for Forbes.com, by Marc Edelman, an associate Professor of Law at the Zicklin School of Business, he lists 21 reasons that he believes support the argument of paying college athletes as university employees. The sum of the article generally amounts to theme that student athletes are treated more like employees as opposed to students, and that the NCAA rakes in huge profits because of these athletes, but does not distribute them fairly. However, I maintain that not only would treating student athletes as employees have serious repercussions, but that athletes actually receive more than enough compensation from universities. Allow me to refute a few of the arguments that Edelman highlighted in his article.

  1. “The typical Division I college football player devotes 43.3 hours per week to his sport — 3.3 more hours than the typical American work week.”
    • 80% of college students need to hold a job while going to school (this often must contribute to their tuition/housing, which athletes don’t have to worry about) and on average this requires at least 20hours per week, in addition to approximately 45hours in class/studying.
  2. Although the NCAA claims college athletes are just students, the NCAA’s own tournament schedules require college athletes to miss classes for nationally televised games that bring in revenue.
    • Teachers are almost always required to accommodate student athletes and their schedules. In addition, students in the debate club also have to miss classes for tournaments! Should they be compensated too? Most would say know, since they chose to pick up that extra-curricular, and they will most likely be benefitting from it in the long run.
  3. Much of the huge revenues collected from college athletics do not go directly back into the classroom. Instead, a substantial share of college sports’ revenues stay ”in the hands of a select few administrators, athletic directors, and coaches.”
    • Coaches and administrators are NOT students. Thereby, of course they are considered employees by law and must be compensated as such. The majority of  the revenue from college athletics is cycled back into college athletics, in a way its somewhat of a self-sustaining system. Funding for the “classroom” is often from aggregated from tuition fees and grants. That being said, there is a plethora of ways as to how individual universities divvy up their funding, and who is to say which way is correct?
  4. At other schools, college coaches regulate student-athlete speech on Facebook and Twitter — even when their sport is not in session.

Athletes Bring in the Big money for College Sports? Should that Mean Anything to the Rest of the College Community?


According to Bobby Rush, a Democratic representative from Illinois, yes it should. In an Op-ed for the debate club on U.S. News, Bobby argues that student athletes are essentially the backbone of collegiate sports. He claims that all arguments against paying college athletes “are fallacious and anachronistic.” And instead poses the question of why we aren’t paying college athletes?

And that is a fair argument from Mr. Rush; however, I still remain unconvinced. Yes, college athletes aren’t paid monetarily, but their scholarships, free tuition, free housing, and plethora of gear and perks from their Universities add up to more than enough compensation.  Take for example most Resident Assistant positions on campuses. Often, students in RA positions are compensated through free housing, which can add up to thousands of dollars per year.

Also, proponents for paying student athletes have yet to answer how that would work? On average college athletics lose about 11 million dollars just to operating costs, so where would the athlete salaries be taken from. Also, once they receive a salary, student athletes would be considered employees of the university under the law. How would that impact their relationship with University as students as in addition to being employees? It’s easy to simply claim that student athletes should be paid, but it is just as important for proponents to have a clear idea of just how this would work, and the lasting impacts of such a decision.

For instance, in 1973 the NCAA replaced four year scholarships with 1 year renewable grants, instead. This makes athletes’ education reliant on their performance in games as opposed to their academic achievements. This goes completely against the original concept of scholarships which was “a grant or payment made to support a student’s education, awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement.” At the end of the day, Universities are institutions of learning, and I believe that it is important that we return to that mentality. If a student athlete drops out of their team or is not living up to their academic responsibilities,then their scholarships should be revoked. But not on the basis of injury or their profitability.



The Freebies, Opportunities and Experiences are Enough

Student athletes receive free tuition, housing, food, clothing, books, tutoring, advising, professional development, medical care, coaching, heck, even free road trips with some of their closest friends and these athletes want payment on top of all that?

Student athletes are already exposed to experiences and opportunities which other students can’t access. They are given four (or five) years to progress through their chosen degree whilst practicing up to 20 hours a week, and maintaining a 2.0 GPA. The amateur athletic club scene in America is not as developed as it is in European countries, so unless these athletes are signed to professional clubs after graduating high school they are left with very little alternative to college athletics if they want to progress athletically or academically. The NCAA gives athletes the opportunity to progress through a system which after the four years can lead to professional contracts and a professional athletic career, and if it doesn’t work out that way, at least they have a degree to fall back on.


Playing college sport is a privilege. 7.6% of high school athletes become college athletes and only 1.9% of these go on to compete at a Division I college, there is an even slighter chance of theses athletes going pro, with only 1 in 1,860 male college basketball athletes making it. Playing sport in college is a dream of many budding high school athletes but in reality, only a very small portion of them succeed it. Often, just the opportunity to play in front of thousands of people, against some of the respective best athletes in the country or even world, and to travel to different areas of the country is alone, enough payment for athletes.

If payment plans were to be an option, student athletes should have to choose between either a full ride encompassing all of the other benefits, or payment, not both. That would escalate prices of athletes to hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than the tens of thousands which they cost now.

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