Time for Top NCAA Athletes to be Paid

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Imagine this: You are an absolutely brilliant young engineer with an amazing brain for design and mechanics. You created your own software before you hit puberty. You took apart a computer and put it back together in the first grade. You won every science fair and science olympiad event you entered all throughout middle and high school. Videos of you explaining theories and theorizing yourself were put online and watched by thousands of people.

Within a week of your high school graduation, you are approached by several high-profile engineering firms who all offer you positions with them for upwards of $750,000 yearly. The position offer two years of guaranteed employment and the option for two more years if you are performing up to standards. After that, you can offer your services to the highest bidder as a “free agent.”

You would take this job, right? There is no way you would decline it in favor of going to college, even if a prestigious university offered you a full scholarship. It would not make sense for you on a financial basis, and someone of your ability would not really gain that much from a college education, anyway.

But there is a problem. You are not allowed to take the job. You are still considered an “amateur” by the (fictitious) National Collegiate Engineers Association, so you have to go to college. You will give conferences and speeches for which the university will charge $50 a ticket, but you will not see any of that money. Your face will be on university billboards and advertisements, but you will still eat in the dining halls and write 100-level papers. Does this sound fair to you?

No, not really. And this illustrates the problem with forcing basketball prodigies to attend at least a year of college and football prodigies at least three (and hopefully, it will make people think before they criticize players for leaving school to go pro early). If this happened in any other profession, it would be seen as incredibly unfair. I am not someone who emphasizes capitalism and American principles above all else, but I still believe that if you offer a service that people are clearly willing to pay for, you should be allowed to enter that market.

In addition to depriving athletes of the option to go pro early, universities make a ton of money off the unpaid players. And if an organization or school is going to make millions of dollars for charging high admission to games that feature athletes and using their likenesses in advertising, the athletes should receive some of that money. I see this as more of a fact than an opinion. If an organization did this in any kind of business practice not related to college athletics, they would be sued.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) likes to hide this practice and diminish it behind the shield of statements like “these are students first and athletes second” and “their scholarships are compensation enough.” There is no denying this is true for many college athletes. It is probably true for that baseball player at Georgia Southern and that distance runner at Minnesota. But using the same rationale for top NFL and NBA prospects that are already celebrities, like Johnny Manziel and Jabari Parker, is borderline ridiculous and seems like satire. These guys could make thousands of dollars just signing a couple autographs if they wanted. Their universities are not doing them any favors.

The falseness of the NCAA’s vision is further exposed by what is happening on the playing field right in front of our eyes. This year’s final March Madness game was between a team that performed so poorly in the classroom they were put on probation a year ago (Connecticut) and a team almost entirely comprised of freshmen looking to enter the NBA as soon as possible (Kentucky). Can anybody look at this matchup and still believe the NCAA’s claims about the virtues of “student/athletes”? At the top level, the only reason these athletes are in school is because they are forced to be there.

And yet, the view that college athletes should receive compensation is still unpopular. SportsNation polls have repeatedly yielded results saying the majority of people do not want college athletes to receive compensation, and state that the idea of “amateurism” is still a priority for them. This has to be evidence of the widespread ignorance of the situation we have here.

Now, this is not to say that college athletes should have a set salary. I agree with the statement NCAA president Mark Emmert gave, saying that college athletes are not employees of the university. But if Nike wants to give a college athlete a shoe endorsement, they should be able to accept it. If an athlete wants to make money off their name at a public conference or autograph session, they should be able to do so. You could make a very strong argument that if a team makes it to a final four or a national championship, earning their school millions of dollars, they should get a cut of that money. If this is not feasible — if keeping college athletes unpaid is so important to the NCAA — at least give them the option to go straight to the pros from high school.

There is no need to sensationalize this — there are bigger problems in the world. But it is still quite odd to me that everyone seems OK with the NCAA making piles of money off people who are completely unpaid, all the while acting outraged when anyone questions these practices. I hope it will not be too long before they get what has been coming to them for quite a while.

About the Author

Jacob Kuyvenhoven

Hi, my name is Jacob Kuyvenhoven and I’m the sports co-editor for the 2013-14 school year. I’m from Grand Rapids, Mich. I’m a junior with a strategic communication major and a journalism minor. At the time of this writing, I have committed 2,525 fewer turnovers than LeBron James, thrown 205 fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning and struck out 816 fewer times than Albert Pujols.

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