Mar 20, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin addresses the media in a press conference after a men

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

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Are Sean Kilpatrick and Mick Cronin right?  There has been an increasing stir in college athletics over the last few years over whether or not college athletes should be paid by the school.  Some say that it defeats the purpose of varsity athletics and others argue that they schools are virtually minor league systems anyway and might as well reward the students.  Your Cincy on the Prowl staff will chime in on the issue and give their thoughts:

Mike Jorgensen:

I wrestle a lot with this question (as you’ll see) but ultimately I’ll say, yes.  It is not an unconditioned yes but I’m fairly confident in my answer.

Before diving into all the problems, I’ll state what I think is a legitimate case for athletes compensation.  I am in favor of a stipend comparable to what you would offer to a graduate or doctoral student doing research for a university.  If someone is providing a service to the school that goes above and beyond their normal academic efforts and such effort creates revenue for the school, then they should be compensated in some way.  Of course, they already get a free education but as many of them (grad students and undergrad athletes) will point out, it is not as free as it sounds.  A small stipend of 15-30k would be sufficient in my mind to keep them from needing to work a part-time job on top of their schooling.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I am not saying athletes should be able to negotiate salary packages and that large schools can throw their weight around to blow away medium to small schools.  I don’t think that the Texas, Florida, and Notre Dames of the world should be offering six-figure salaries to their undergraduate athletes.  If that happens then it is the death of college football/basketball.  The money should be enough to support a comfortable academic lifestyle (books, food, rent, etc.).  College compensation rates should never reach a point where they are competing with professional contracts.  If a student still wants to bail and go professional then the school shouldn’t be able to fix that by throwing dollars at it.  Thus, it is part of my notion that the stipend rates and cap should be set by the NCAA and applied to all schools.  Such stipend should also be optional, we cannot force MAC schools to generate $20k per player, per year, and expect them to be able to afford an athletic program.

I have plenty of other stipulations:

  • Penalizing schools that still fail to graduate an acceptable quantity of players. (looking at you Kentucky basketball)

  • Allowing schools to market merchandise with players names attached (trading cards, jerseys, etc.)

  • Allowing the NCAA to market merchandise with players names attached (video games)

It’s not exhaustive but hopefully this quick overview gives you my take on the deal.  The only snag I see in my argument is that I’m only considering men’s football and basketball.  Surely the other athletic programs would be deserving of such compensation but would become a huge financial burden on the schools.

Chris Bains:

College athletes should be paid. Consider a typical student who has the opportunity to earn money while in college. It could be anything from a job waiting tables in the student center to a full-fledged paid internship. On the low end they are earning minimum wage and on the high end several thousand dollars over the course of a semester. Then look at a student athlete who is so bogged down by practice, lifting sessions, film study, team meetings, study tables, class, and travel to work a job even if they wanted to. The argument that they collectively earn the school millions of dollars is a good one in my opinion but I think the fact that they don’t have the opportunity to earn some cash on the side in an honest job, like a normal student, is the real reason why I think they deserve a stipend.

The only caveat with this is that universities need to do a better job regulating the kind of money these student athletes receive from boosters. It happens everywhere and we all know it. But currently the schools don’t really care if the players get paid under the table and it’s difficult for the NCAA as a top-level, national organization to track it down, unless it’s being done so egregiously like at SMU way back when. The individual universities themselves are the only ones who can really get in between boosters and players to put an end to the transactions.

If a reasonable stipend is determined that is designed to help student athletes across the board and give them a much better way of life, then anything beyond that should be thought of as excess. As such, it should be regulated closely by the universities to ensure the boosters aren’t paying the players thousands of dollars extra. I just think it needs to stop and if the schools paying their student athletes themselves halts those under the table payments, I’m all for it. It’s way easier said than done, though.

Jesse Smith:

This is a slippery slope, but I feel these kids should get paid. It shouldn’t be a free for all it should be a range depending on your conference. Power conference’s a la Big Ten, SEC, Pac 12 will be able to pay top dollar for athletes and when I say top dollar it wouldn’t be negotiated it would be a set scale whether it’s 3-5k per semester.

When I see the deals (Big Ten Network, SEC Network, Longhorn Network) and that’s not counting deals with ESPN, CBS and all other big network deals I feel the kids shouldn’t have to go to the black market to get funds. If the NCAA could be proactive it would put the kids in a better position and keep their brand in a better position. If the kids who can’t work for income, is able to receive legit income that would keep the sharks out of the water.

You look at “Tattoo Gate” at OSU, the autograph situation at Texas A&M or the Auburn situation a few years back if the kids were able to have a legit income from the school maybe a lot of these situations never come about.

The NCAA has to change with the time everything is a big business nowadays that’s why teams are switching conferences every year. Back in the 60’s getting a free education and housing was far compensation. In 2014 teams that go to BCS Bowl’s get high seven figures just to compete. Conferences get seven figures or more for early exit fees. This isn’t your daddy’s NCAA.

If implemented correctly it would fix a lot of the ills in college sports. Who knows it may happen, but they have to do it right and who has the answer to that?

Tommy Perry:

While I can see where those who want college athletes to be paid are coming from, I respectfully have to disagree. College costs have risen substantially over the past decade, and many cannot afford to go to college without taking on some student loans. The struggles haven’t just impacted low income families, as even those who come from middle class families with good grades and test scores are struggling to limit debt. By giving athletic scholarships to many of these middle to lower income athletes, you are already doing them a massive favor over your average college kid who is struggling to get by.

While there are many good arguments for and against paying these college athletes, the most overlooked facet of the debate is how they would spend their money if they were paid. Let’s face it, most college kids aren’t usually the most fiscally responsible individuals in the world. By giving them an athletic scholarship, you are taking the monetary decisions out of their hands and you know exactly what/where the money is going towards. If they receive some type of payment, how can the NCAA possibly regulate it? The NCAA has already overextended its boundaries as far as trying to run the lives of their athletes go, so what stops them from trying to do even more once athletes get paid?

Finally, the most daunting concern that many, including myself, have about paying athletes is how much do you pay each athlete? Does the women’s rowing team deserve to be paid the same as the men’s basketball team? If you did try to pay them differently, wouldn’t that violate title 9 and bring a large number of court battles with it? Should members of the same team be equally paid even if they aren’t equal players? For instance, would it be fair for Sean Kilpatrick to be paid the same as David Nyarsuk? These are all incredibly difficult questions to answer and I believe that it shows a bigger flaw in modern-day college athletics as a whole. It is no longer about the team or school pride, it is all about what is best for each person individually. This goes for the NCAA also, as they clearly have become all about money and whatever supports their best interests, not the best interests of these “student” athletes. This mercenary attitude is pervasive across the college athletics landscape, and until it is challenged, it will continue to dominate the true purpose behind athletics-to build school spirit, teamwork, work ethic, dedication, and cooperation.

Ben Levin:

College athletes should NOT be paid.  Much of what has been said revolves around paying players a stipend, which varies between $2,000-$20,000 depending on who’s opinion you solicit.  I agree that college athletes should get a little more, but you can do that without actually “paying” players.  Rather than pay players, the NCAA simply needs to increase the value of an athletic scholarship to the “Total Cost of Attendance,” as is already being discussed.  If you look at any college’s website, you can usually find a chart breaking down the Total Cost of Attendance.

This cost obviously includes Tuition, Room, and Board, but also includes a typical student’s additional budget for books/supplies ($1,000-1,500), travel/transportation ($500-1,000), miscellaneous fees, and “personal expenses” ($2,000-4,000).  “Personal expenses” is a fancy way of saying “spending money to go out to eat, go to the movies, drink a beer with your friends, etc.”  So increasing a scholarship’s value to the Total Cost of Attendance basically “pays” the student-athletes the $3,500-6,500 stipend people are calling for, but keeps their budget in line with their non-athlete classmates, and makes it clear that they are not employees.  They are not earning a salary, merely a per diem of sorts.  A reimbursement for the miscellaneous expenses they incur, especially since they can’t work part-time jobs while practicing and watching film.

Furthermore, college athletes who are on a full scholarship aren’t doing as poorly as some of them claim.  Consider this: if a student-athlete chooses to live off campus and opt out of the schools meal plan, that student-athlete gets a check for the value of room and board.  During my time at UC, everybody I know (literally EVERYBODY) opted to move out of the dorms and not buy a meal plan after their Freshman or Sophomore years.  Why?  Because renting an apartment or a house with friends was thousands of dollars cheaper than living in the dorms and paying for the meal plan.  Every student-athlete on a full scholarship who opts to move off campus gets a check for $10,500 a year (the cost of room and board in the dorms).  My typical rent+utilities+cable+internet at the apartments I lived in during college (just a few years ago) was around $550 per month for everything.  That’s $6,600 a year.  And I had my apartment year-round.  The dorms kick you out during Christmas break, Spring break, and all Summer.  So athletes living off campus pocket $4,000 a year to feed themselves – In addition to the now unlimited free team meals and/or meal money they get before and after games and practices (The NCAA just approved unlimited meals for student athletes this week).  Sorry, Shabazz Napier, you are not “starving.”

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually agree with some (not all) of John Calapari’s ideas, too.  Allow the school to pay for one flight home per year per athlete.  Have the NCAA cover players’ health insurance premiums.  But no “stipend” to players.  No “taking out $50,000 loans against future earnings.”  Sorry, John.  I see right through that.  That’s Calapari trying to further his one-and-done agenda by letting Anthony Davis-es of the world legally drive a Lexus in their own name during their 8 months on campus at UK.

Simple solution: Increase value of a full athletic scholarship to the Total Cost of Attendance (adding around $4,000-6,000 per year to its value).  Give student-athletes who are on partial scholarships (baseball, track & field, etc.) or who are walk-ons a per diem reimbursement each semester that is equal to the “personal spending” allowance added to full scholarships.

During my time at UC (2005-2010), I never earned more than $11,000 a year working my part time and summer jobs.  I managed to pay my rent, pay my bills, put gas in my car, buy some stuff I wanted, buy groceries, go out to eat here and there, drink (lots of) beer with my buddies, and generally have a grand ol’ time – with just that money.  Oh, and then there’s the part where I had to go into debt up to my eyeballs to pay my tuition – a struggle D-I scholarship athletes know nothing about.  Free tuition, a room and board check for $10,500, unlimited meals, and an additional $4,000-$6,000 is more than enough!

There you have it, a few of us chimed in.  What do you think?

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

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