What is the Future Like for a Collegiate Athlete if they Could Get Paid?
Written by: Mallory Hickethier
Are the future of college athletes and athletics programs going to change if those collegiate athletes start getting paid? Say the NCAA regulations changed — college athletes benefit from their name, image, and likeness by being paid through endorsements. If collegiate athletes got paid, would they have to start thinking about their personal brand? They already had to market themselves to college coaches by creating highlight reels, attending college camps or prep schools starting in high school. But what if there was an added aspect to recruiting. What if coaches recruited based off of talent and how they could visualize the potential transformation of an athlete into the face of the athletic program?
Recently, Zion Williams declared that he was going to enter into the 2019 NBA draft just after his freshman year! Williams became the face of the 2018–2019 Duke Men’s Basketball and Duke University. He easily could have gotten paid this year just from his name and the image he created for Duke because of all of the talents he showed on the basketball court. If Duke University (and/or their athletic department) made more money this year compared to last year because of Williams, he wouldn’t see any of that money because of the NCAA regulations stating that a college athlete cannot accept any form of payment. Williams was heavily recruited out of high school based on his athletic ability, but what if Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Men’s Head Basketball coach, could have recruited him because he was going to be the future image for Duke Men’s Basketball? Williams became a national sensation to watch. HE created a frenzy for the Duke Blue Devils. Love em or hate em, we all talk about him because of what he created for himself and his team. Could have Duke Athletics predicted that they were going to have an increase in ticket sales for the 2018–2019 because of one player in one year? Most likely not. According to ESPN, the “cheapest ticket available for the 2018–2019 season was $2,500. These prices are the highest they have ever been.” In 2017, the “average price for a ticket to watch the Blue Devils play was about $200,” according to Soren Chargois who is a recent graduate from Duke University and currently works for the Duke Alumni Association. Reporters covering Duke Basketball starting referring to this ticket sales phenomenon as the “Zion Effect.” Cameron Indoor Stadium only holds a little more than 9,000 people. This is a small Division I arena compared to “Carrier Dome where the Syracuse Orange play which holds 34,616” when we are talking about capacity numbers. “Carrier Dome is the largest Division I basketball arena. Syracuse uses the Carrier Dome for football and lacrosse as well. During those games, the capacity increases significantly during those games.” (NCAA — Largest Basketball Arenas) Even if you use conservative numbers when calculating the average revenue from ticket sales, Duke surpasses Syracuse by thousands of dollars… per game. The revenue differences in a single season aren’t even comparable. If Syracuse and Duke can’t be comparable, I doubt that there are many other schools who come close to Duke; maybe Gonzaga or University of North Carolina but even then those are a long shot off from Duke.
Once you know your strengths and can prove those, justifying your value isn’t that hard. How are athletes going to showcase their value differently to various coaches and teams for example, Duke versus Syracuse? It all starts with the athletes personal brand. Coaches want to recruit great athletes but they want students who can perform in the classroom as well. Five ways to building a personal brand start with these steps here: “figure out what you are good at, find your social platform, collaborate, build your website/email list, and launch your own products.” (inc.com) In athlete terms, find what sport and position(s) good at, find a way to prove it, collaborate with teammates, build your network (talk to coaches), and then show off your value that you provide within your sport. This process is starting earlier than ever for young adults because of social media. Instagram and Twitter have allowed high school athletes to post videos and stories of their success. College coaches notice and will start to discover those standout players. High schoolers who want to play a sport in college want to get noticed by coaches early so they do everything they can to get that interest. They are creating their personal brand without even realizing it. If these high school students knew that they had the same opportunity to play a college sport but could get paid for it all while getting an education, would they change the way they reach coaches? I say yes because now those high school athletes are looking at the sport in a more professional way like a job. Universities do not want their future student-athletes looking at a college sport as a professional job because it is not in so many ways. This leads us down the path of, if we paid college athletes like professionals (obviously not on the same pay scale), would they value the education the university is providing them while being able to play a sport or would they focus more on competing to potentially become a better athlete which could result in possibly earning more money from endorsements?
They are just as much of a college student as they are an athlete. We have to give them credit for the amount of time they put in every day to be the athlete they are on top of their educational responsibilities. College by any means isn’t easy. Each person will have their challenges and triumphs. The time management that athletes have to establish early on in college are things that some people won’t do until later in their college career. Being a collegiate athlete is no walk in the park, so I do believe that they should be compensated in a way for making their collegiate sport their “full-time job” while in school because that’s basically what it amounts to between the time they have to put in for weight lifting, watching film, practice, required study hours, and of course games. So between all of the effort they have to put in day in and day out, they don’t get to reap the benefits of getting a paycheck? Ask any student-athlete across the United States, and I bet a large majority of them say that is bullshit. But in a way, they are being biased too. In 2018, two student-athletes were recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship. One of the student-athletes was “JaVaughn Flowers from Yale University. He plays basketball for the Bulldogs and is pursuing a degree in political science. The other student-athlete is Harold Xavier Gonzalez who plays tennis for Harvard University.” (Forbes) These two gentlemen received the prestigious academic scholarship but this doesn’t show the athletes that were nominated for the distinguished award. This is proof that being an outstanding student is possible while also being a college athlete.
Rarely does someone make it through college without a form of debt. Sometimes college athletes accumulate more debt than they want to. Rather than being able to partially pay their way through college, they are playing the sport they love. Most student-athletes do not work during the school year or at least during the season because of the time commitments required. So what is the incentive to the potential college athlete to play a sport in college rather than working and being able to graduate college with less debt? The recognition of being a college athlete, keeping fit, a free meal plan? No, it is for them to be able to go to college with financial (some) support. “NCAA Division I and II schools provide more than $2.9 billion in athletic scholarships annually to more than 150,000 student-athletes.” (NCAA — Scholarships) I doubt that most of those students wouldn’t even be in college if it wasn’t for the help from the NCAA. “Only about 2% of high school athletes are awarded athletic scholarships to compete in college.” (NCAA — Scholarships) College athletes are allowed to stack academic scholarships on top of their athletic scholarships which helps but doesn’t always cover the full cost of attendance to a university.
Collegiate sports are not a career or profession, education comes before the sport even though the sport is how that student got to that college. They are student-athletes not athlete-students. How is the salary for a collegiate athlete determined? If they were only paid by endorsement deals What companies would be allowed to sponsor college athletes? Nike already sponsors certain university athletic programs so would they be the only athletic apparel company to sponsor a potential athlete?
The percentage of athletes that continue their sports career after college is minimal, which is where they would start to make money doing the sport they love but professionally rather than at an amateur level. Revenue from a football program at large universities don’t usually cover the cost of the entire budget, they have to make that deficit up with other sports, fundraising, and private donors. There are only “twenty-two self-sufficient Division I athletics programs in the country” according to Leslie Ryder’s article Don’t Pay College Athletes. This means that athletic programs don’t rely solely on funding from the university, the NCAA, or students’ fees. They mostly rely on the revenue generated specifically from the ticket sales, sponsors, private donors, fundraising, and other cash flows from sports-related activities. If an athlete at the university that has a budget deficit got endorsed by a company, would it be a slap in the face to the athletic department that can’t generate enough revenue to break even? The university is the reason that athlete has the opportunity to play.
What if we didn’t have college athletics though? Most universities wouldn’t the powerhouses that they are because of their recognized sports programs. They wouldn’t be able to rely on the revenue stream that comes from having an athletics programs, the community would take a hit because the visitors spend money in the town which helps the economy of the town, there wouldn’t be as many jobs available, and the possibility that the enrollment wouldn’t be as high because a significant portion of the overall student population are athletes. Each university has a brand and athletic brand that they have all worked hard to build over the course of time. Is the personal brand of the athlete any different? They are both proving and protecting the value that they provide to society.
Bobby Hauck, head football coach at the University of Montana, was on the podcast A New Angle hosted by Justin Angle who is a business school professor at U of M, on April 9th, 2019. Coach Hauck said, “football is the front doorstep to a lot of good universities.” Football is generally the largest sport that generates revenue for a university; it is at least for the University of Montana and Ohio State University. If athletes were to get paid, what rules would the NCAA put in place to regulate paying athletes? Would they each get a base salary like they would at an hourly job? Would better athletes get paid more? Would athletes in programs that generate more revenue than another sport at the university gets paid differently? Would women athletes get paid the same amount as male athletes? Are there any Title IX rules that would come into play and have to change too? What about athletes in different divisions like a Division I school versus a Division II or III school? Who ends up paying the athletes, each university or the NCAA for over 1,000 collegiate athletic departments? Do they get paid only by endorsements from companies that want to use their name and personal brand and not by the university at all? There are so many questions that would need to be answered, and none of them are simple. This is why this topic hasn’t been resolved. But these are all of the issues that the NCAA faces. Like Leslie Ryder said in her article Don’t Pay College Athletes in the Huffington Post, “there are far too many logistical, economic and legal hurdles that would have to disappear before paying students could even become a reality.” And she’s not wrong. All of the questions that I listed are obstacles that the NCAA would have to tackle and evaluate on a much deeper level.
A student-athletes personal brand is about how the athlete pushed themselves to be the best athlete that can they can be. If the university is indirectly getting money from the name and image of the athlete currently but the athlete isn’t seeing any of that money then why would the athlete want to share the money made off of an endorsement with the university in the future? This isn’t to say that college athletes wouldn’t be greedy and gluttonous but in a way, they would be and should be. Would players like Zion Williams or Kyler Murray from the University of Oklahoma be who they are now without playing for these universities? No, they give credit to their respective universities for helping them cultivate their personal brand and how going to college has shaped them as a person. But they are the ones who continuously work hard to better themselves every day so they deserve to keep all the of money that would come back to them no matter the form of payment. (Although, I am sure both of them have currently have full-ride scholarships to their respective universities.)
There are other ways the student-athletes can pay for their college education and that is what they currently have to do. The student can still file their FAFSA, they can receive an academic scholarship on top of their partial athletic scholarship, and they can take out loans like a lot of other traditional students do. (It is rare that a student-athlete gets a full ride scholarship, but that depends on the university.) But student-athletes still face the challenge of should they continue to play the sport they love or finally hang up the cleats, helmets, or bats for a real job.
In the end, I believe people think that athletes shouldn’t get paid because education is the first priority and student-athletes would start focusing more on their sport and not on their studying as much if they were getting paid. It would take away the importance of the educational component that the university is providing. Not to say every student-athlete would do that, but
There will continue to be a lot of talk about paying college athletes and we should continue to follow this story. But in all reality, I don’t think the NCAA will agree to this regulation any time in the near future. As for an athlete building their personal brand, they are already doing it even without knowing. If they want to continue to make athletics a large part of their lives, maybe they should start intentionally thinking about their future, how people perceive them and how they want to be remembered. A personal brand isn’t just about how well you can do something but what people remember about you when you are not in the spotlight anymore.