Paying College Athletes: A Complicated Issue

Type the word “paying” into a search engine, and before “paying off debt” or “paying student loans” comes the phrase “paying college athletes”. It’s one of those issues that does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Though early polls (2001) showed that a majority of Americans were opposed to the idea of paying student athletes, more recent polls (2013) reveal that the country is essentially split on the issue.


So why has the idea of “pay for play” gained so much traction over the past 10–12 years?

Well, for one, it’s becoming more and more evident that participating in college athletics is not a hobby, but a full time job. According to a USA Today poll of over 21,000 DI, DII, and DIII athletes, they typically spend over 30 hours per week on their sport in-season.

Given this time commitment, plus the hefty amount of hours being spent in the classroom and working on schoolwork, very few student athletes have the time or energy to work jobs. Carrie Fellows, a human resource specialist for the past twenty years is a supporter of paying student athletes, “They can’t have jobs. They have so much commitment with athletics and with their schoolwork… They are not allowed to get a job, and they need money just like everybody else.”

Here is Dave Hoffman, a Siena College baseball (DI) player talking about the possibility of playing a sport and working a job:

Scholarships are the current form of compensation for athletes at “big name” schools, but many athletes at smaller institutions don’t receive scholarships for their efforts. Austin Clock, a baseball player at SUNY Cortland (DIII) does not receive a scholarship for baseball despite a rigorous practice/game schedule, “In season the amount of hours I put in per week is probably close to 40 or 45, maybe a little bit more or less depending on games, practices, bus rides, but it’s a good amount.”

Division III athletes are not alone when it comes to the lack of athletic scholarships. Union College hockey, which likely generated hundreds of thousands of dollars when it won the 2014 National Championship, does not give out athletic scholarships to its players. Everyone on the team pays their own way through school, despite the money they’re bringing in.

So you would think these athletes are at least able to market themselves to fans in order to make money, right? Wrong. Currently, it is a violation of NCAA rules for players to sell their images and likeness to make a profit for themselves.

Rob Singleton, a volunteer assistant football coach at Coastal Carolina University thinks that allowing athletes to profit from their likeness will be great for college sports, “I think it could help increase competition and motivate players even more, because if you have a player at a smaller school who goes off and makes a name for himself, he will receive the benefits he deserves. For instance Jimmer Fredette; nobody wanted to buy a BYU basketball jersey until he made his name there, and now that a lot of people want to buy that jersey he deserves some of those benefits.”

The general public are not alone in their support of this notion. In August of last year, a federal judge ruled in favor of 20 former collegiate athletes who sued the NCAA over control of the rights to college athletes names, images, and likeness. In the decision, Judge Claudia Wilken states that athletes may receive a limited share of the revenues generated from their names, images, and likeness up to $5,000 per athlete per year (CNN).


The “pay for play” argument is far from one sided. There are still many people that believe college athletes should not be paid, including SUNY Oswego Sports Information Director Mike Bielak, who understands the restrictions that athletic departments face financially, “When one football program does well and makes a little bit of money and the other 23 sports they support are costing money, then the college is still losing out.”

Although Hoffman wouldn’t mind being paid, he understands that many programs don’t generate revenue for the NCAA “I can’t really speak as a person that makes money for the NCAA. I don’t think Siena baseball makes very much money for them, if any at all.”

Lack of excess money is the main argument against the paying of student athletes. The NCAA holds firm that despite the perception they’re “rolling” in cash because of the billions of dollars in revenue they bring in each year, their net profit is really quite minimal.

Not all student-athletes are outraged that they’re not being paid either. Despite the amount of hours he puts in, Clock is satisfied with what he’s given, “We get t-shirts, shorts, food on the road, batting gloves, bats, helmets, all that stuff. The way I look at it is I’m getting “paid to play” with my experience, and the way they take care of me. It’s enough for me, I don’t need to be making money.”

Clock also agrees with the idea that the NCAA is there for athletes to showcase their talent and try to make it to the next level. Here is a clip of him discussing his thoughts on “pay for play”:

Despite the varying opinions, the facts are the facts. Student-athletes put in a whole lot of work, and many don’t get a thing in return. Whether they should be paid or not, it seems unrealistic that non-revenue generating schools would be able to pay all their athletes.

The general consensus seems to be allowing the athletes to profit from their own names and likenesses. How this would affect smaller schools? It remains to be seen.

RELATED VIDEOS: Carrie Fellows discusses her take on paying student athletes.

RELATED MEDIA: I asked people their thoughts on the issue. Here’s what they said.

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