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Should College Athletes Be Paid to Play?

by Alex Rizk | UNC Chapel Hill

F Posted in: College P Posted on: June 8, 2011
Screen shot 2011-06-07 at 7.20.10 PM Image Courtesy of Flickr, Michael Oh

University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier’s shocking proposal to pay college football players has highlighted some of the dilemmas inherent to college sports, and has some of us asking the question whether or not it is time for the NCAA to make some changes. Should college athletes be paid to play football? Steve Spurrier said yes, “a $300 stipend every game.”

Amateur sports are characterized by using players who aren’t paid. Amateur players need to play for the love of the game. This is a different environment than professional football. Supporting the university and your fellow students is all the motivation players should need. College football scholarship players already receive free tuition, room, board, medical treatment from team doctors, personal trainers, academic tutors, first pick on class schedules to eliminate scheduling conflicts, their own student lounge, etc.

Brian Taylor, quarterback for Iona College said, “We got plenty of perks along the way that many people didn’t see.” Most college students would give almost anything to be a college football player under these circumstances.

If we begin to pay players, it could potentially alter their motivations. Taylor said, “[It] sounds good on paper, but it will never happen without a series of incidents and scandals.” Athletes may begin to play for the money and the additional benefits, not just the game. If universities pay them $300 per game this year, next year they may want $1,000, and the following year they may negotiate for even more. It’s a slippery slope and could eventually make college football look a lot like the NFL. It is conceivable that you may very well destroy the integrity of college football once you start paying the students to play.

If you start paying athletes who generate the most revenue, what will happen to the college sports that don’t make as much money for universities? Will participants in women’s sports be docked because they don’t historically generate as much money as a college football program?

On the other hand, Spurrier’s perspective and ultimate goal are understandable. Coaches like Spurrier see the players that they care about so much struggle to survive financially, even though they help the college bring in millions of dollars in revenue every year. These players dedicate the majority of their time and energy to the sport leaving them with no time to have a job or devote themselves to a lot of other commitments. It definitely seems as if these guys have everything and more, but as Spurrier mentions, where do they round up the money to take their girlfriends out for a slice of pizza and a movie? The amount of revenue that college football generates is as much as professional football, yet unlike college players, professional players make millions of dollars a year. Without college football, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to have professional football because most NFL players play college football first.

As a result of the players committing themselves to a full time sport, a commitment some may say is ultimately that of a job in itself, some players are driven towards bending the rules in order to live a normal lifestyle. There are constant rumors about college boosters secretly giving cash to players so that they can have spending money. In addition, professional street agents have been rumored to give players money in exchange for their agreeing to use them as their agents after they graduate and head to the NFL. If any of the players are caught violating the rules in order to survive financially, the coaches are ultimately held responsible. Sure, there are negative consequences for the players as well, but the coach takes the ultimate blow. Therefore, coaches like Spurrier have to keep a close eye on their team members, constantly worrying that players might get into some trouble and potentially put their careers at risk. It appears that violations of this kind are so common that the NCAA could investigate any Division I college football program and find a player violating the rules in order to make the money necessary to have a normal college experience. The result is that the NCAA has an incredible amount of power and can literally hand pick its victims.

Having said all this, some Division I athletes come from families that can afford to provide them with the spending money they need for college. These fortunate teammates are not under pressure to violate the rules. Does this mean that perhaps compensation could be solely based on need? The players still need to be treated like students athletes, or else they have nothing to strive for after their four years of college sports. However, maybe they are in fact in need of some extra spending cash considering their full time commitment to their sport and academics.

Julianne Capron, men’s varsity basketball manager for Saint Joseph’s University said, “Players have expectations to live up to, and they might lose their focus if they are given too much pocket money.” One possible solution may be to pay players a stipend, but to also monitor their spending of these funds. This way they are forced to use their money wisely. They would need to present receipts for food, clothes, and leisure, in much the same way business executives do when they submit expense reports. Maybe they could even get a team cash card that can only be used at certain venues.

Whatever the proposed solution, the NCAA should revisit and re-evaluate the rules as they apply to university athletes. If the rules were applied uniformly throughout the schools, the financial side of the playing field could perhaps finally be leveled.

Alex Rizk Alex Rizk Alex is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. She is from Franklin Lakes, NJ.

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