Pay to Play: Should College Athletes Get Paid?

This week we tackle a debate that has picked up steam in the last couple of years.

The idea of paying college players has been around for a very long time. But more recently, this debate has ramped up, and it seems like everyone has a strong opinion on the controversial topic.

This past week, California Governor Gavin Newsome signed legislation that allows college athletes to be paid for their names and likeness. The bill, now known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, makes it illegal for a university to revoke an athlete’s scholarship or eligibility for taking money. While this doesn’t mean that schools will pay athletes, it means that college athletes can hire agents to help negotiate commercial opportunities.

Although the bill was just signed, it won’t take effect until 2023. Many famous athletes, including LeBron James, Draymond Green, and Richard Sherman have already spoken out in support of the legislation.

There are many ways to look at this situation, so I’m going to present short arguments for both sides and then let the debate begin. So, let’s get going: should college athletes be compensated for their image and likeness?

Side 1: Yes, College Athletes Should Be Compensated

Many people, for a long time, have seen the NCAA as corrupt. This week, Draymond Green called the NCAA a “dictatorship”. It’s a matter of opinion as to whether you think the NCAA is taking advantage of college athletes, but here’s what it comes down to: the NCAA makes billions of dollars off of the athletes that are on TV every day. If there are no college athletes, there is no money. 

Why should these athletes wait until they go pro to make money, when they are already making universities and the NCAA all this money? Athletes have a much bigger impact on the outcome of a game than coaches. And yet coaches at universities with major sports programs get paid A LOT of money. Furthermore, coaches receive huge bonuses for reaching certain milestones. The players are the ones who get the coaches to these milestones, but they see none of the benefit.

Some of these athletes never see the jackpot payday of going pro. A major reason is injury. Unfortunately, many athletes in all sports are robbed of professional opportunities due to injuries. If an athlete spends years making his school a boatload of money and then never signs a professional contract, that seems completely unfair to the athlete.

Furthermore, this law is going to shake up the NCAA, and many other states are likely to follow. The law won’t go into effect until 2023, and it’s only present in California right now, but you can bet that other states will quickly come up with something similar. Do you think Alabama is going to be happy to see recruits dart for California because they can get paid? How about other big football states like Florida and Texas? In a couple of years, you might be at a disadvantage if your state does not have a law like this. 

Side 2: No, College Athletes Should Not Be Compensated

There are a few big reasons as to why college athletes should not be paid. The biggest one seems to be that college sports and recruiting would turn into a business and take away from the beauty of the game. If athletes were given incentive to attend a certain school, they could be given bigger incentives from a different school the following year, leading to their transfer.

A lot of people will tell you they enjoy college sports over professional sports because the athletes are playing for the love of the game. An absence of compensation means that players won’t hold out, won’t complain about money, and are less likely to develop drama queen attitudes about money. They play to win the game, and that’s it. No salary negotiations, no unhappy or underpaid players and no off-field endorsement distractions. Paying college athletes would ruin all of that. 

If college athletes were given salaries or money from the university, this would likely be in place of their scholarships. It all depends on the amount of money, but there would be situations where this would be a disadvantage for an athlete. Due to taxes and other factors, some athletes’ compensation may amount to less than an overall scholarship.

Finally, the money has to come from somewhere, right? Likely, that’ll be from the universities. Yes, we all understand that universities make a fuckload of money and then nickel and dime students in every possible way. No one is going to feel bad that the money is coming out of their pockets.

However, this format may lead to bidding wars between universities for certain players. The money used to pay these players might come from other college programs or organizations, leading to their downfall. Additionally, it could deprive other “normal” students of their chance to attend their dream school because there is less scholarship money available.

My Take

This debate is really tough for many reasons. It goes beyond the bullet points that comprise each side of the argument. It’s mainly tough because of the uncertainty. The idea of paying or compensating college athletes is straightforward, but the details are completely unknown. Where is the money or compensation going to come from? How does the NCAA react? Could this be the first step towards the abolishment of the NCAA? It may seem like a good idea now, but could the demolition of the formal NCAA be one of the worst ideas in sports history?

For now, it makes sense that college athletes should be compensated in some way for their contribution to their university and college sports in general. I will say that I like this California bill because it does not have a direct affiliation with the NCAA or the universities. It simply says that agents working for the players can negotiate deals. This seems like a fair idea for now, but this could be the first step towards mayhem? Only time will tell.

What do YOU think? Should college athletes be paid or compensated? If so, how?

NBA expert and IU grad. '96 Bulls > Warriors. #FireGarPax

Twitter: @realdmill