College sports, an industry that earns billions because of the millions of people that gather to watch athletes play, has come under fire for not paying said athletes. While many think that athletes should be paid in college, such a practice would be impractical, most athletes do not generate enough revenue to be paid, such a system would violate the essence of being a student-athlete, and the profits that are generated by sports benefit the school as a whole.
College football began to increase in popularity in the late 19th century. The sport was far more violent in its early days, with concussions, broken bones, and general pains and fatigue rampant in the sport. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt (R, 1901“09) gathered the heads of college athletics programs to discuss reforms that would make college sports safer. In December of that year, 62 colleges formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS), a body tasked with drawing up a set of standard rules and regulations to be followed by all member colleges. In 1910, the IAAUS changed its name to the NCAA. The organization’s Web site describes it as a “discussion group and rules-making body.” In 1921, the NCAA organized its first national championship: The National Collegiate Track and Field Championships. In 1939, the organization introduced a basketball championship, to be decided by an eight-team tournament. The tournament grew in both size and popularity, over the next several decades; in 1975, the tournament was expanded to 32 teams. In 1957, meanwhile, the NCAA began to allow universities to provide athletic scholarships for players they felt would benefit their teams. Once that happened, observers note, schools began competing to find the best players.
Allen Sack, a professor of business at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut, and a former college football player, notes that it was in the wake of that decision that “commercialized college sports started down the slippery slope toward open professionalism.” College basketball grew more popular”and more profitable”in the late 1970s. BusinessWeek journalist Jason Zengerle describes 1979 as a “momentous year,” in which future NBA superstars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson garnered national attention by facing off in the NCAA basketball title game between Bird’s Sycamores”representing Indiana State University in Terre Haute”and Johnson’s Spartans”representing Michigan State University in East Lansing. Around that time, the Nike sportswear company began paying NCAA coaches to outfit their players in Nike apparel. Such endorsements soon became common, with coaches earning thousands of dollars a year for showcasing corporate-branded sports apparel.
Critics of paying college athletes note that only a small number of them compete in sports or on teams that generate revenue. They argue that if players were paid, a handful of exceptional athletes would receive large salaries while most players would receive a pittance and would probably no longer be offered valuable athletic scholarships. Basketball coach Paul Hewitt of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta argues, “Few players truly move the needle in terms of attendance, TV ratings, or merchandising.” If players were paid, he argues, “you’d get a few guys making a lot of money, and others fighting their way onto campus. I think in the long run; the majority of student-athletes would lose in that type of market.”
Kapur argues that paying college athletes would ruin college sports for most of them. He argues, When you boil it all down, college sports are really about getting a good education and doing what you love to do for just a few more years before you have to knock it off and get a real job. So, before we consider anything else, why should anyone reform a system and attempt to cater to a tiny minority when it is generally working for the other 97%? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Some professional athletes insist that college players do not”and should not”play out of a desire to make money. Matt Ryan, who played football for Boston College and is now the quarterback of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, argues, “[T]here’s an innocence to it that’s great about college football.” Indeed, many critics of paying college athletes insist that there is simply a sanctity about amateur sports that would be violated if players were paid. John Lombardi, president of the Louisiana State University System, argues, “College sports must be conducted with the talent of amateurs who do not receive direct individual payment for their services beyond what is appropriate for school expenses. If they receive more, then they become employees of the university, playing not for the team but for the money.” Lombardi notes, It is the principle that matters. We succeed with intercollegiate sports because we work hard to put only amateur students on the field, we construct restrictions to keep our student-athletes as continuing members of our university, and we rigorously exclude those who step over the line into the professional world or fail to maintain some minimum standard of student status.
Critics of paying college athletes also defend the large amounts of money that universities make from their athletics programs. The late NCAA President Myles Brand once said that a college athletics program, “like the university as a whole, seeks to maximize revenues. In this respect, it has an obligation to conduct its revenue-generating activities in a productive and sound business-like manner.” Others note that when a college or university earns a lot of money from college sports, the entire university benefits, not just the athletics department. David Schmidly, the president of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, notes, “One of the most effective ways to market your university nationally is to have a really quality athletic program. It helps recruit faculty, students, and donors. It helps with the image of the whole university.”
Supporters of paying college athletes assert that players should be paid simply because their hard work makes money for other people. Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University in upstate New York, argues, “If what you do earns money, then you have the right to negotiate for your share. When Tom Cruise makes a film, he gets paid quite well. He doesn’t get the money because he’s a nice guy, he gets paid because he is generating revenue for someone else. That’s how capitalism works.” While this is a good point, it doesnt consider the fact that college athletes are amateurs and that theater students dont receive the money they generate for the drama program.
While supporters of paying college athletes have good arguments, the fact of the matter is that most athletes dont generate enough to be paid, it wouldnt work as a system, and that paying them crosses the line of amateurism into professionalism.
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