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Should College Athletes be Paid for Their Efforts?

An academic university is constructed of examinations and instructions for students in a variety of fields of superior learning and degrees. All facilities and universities offer extraordinary types of scholarships; however, not all offer athletic scholarships such as Division III schools. University athletic programs are an excellent way for college students to build character by way of creating wholesome habits in self-discipline, fitness and competition. It certainly takes up a lot of time and patience to be a college athlete. Also, the ideal athlete must meet all academic requirements for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Specifically, it’s essential for high school seniors to check with the NCAA Eligibility Center to make sure they are on track. Although, a high school senior may be qualified to graduate, there are still more requirements that need to be met. As a result, shouldn’t student athletes be paid for their efforts?

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The word “student athlete” was embedded in the dialect of the sports played at a college or university. In the 1950s, the creator of “student athlete,” Walter Byers, designed the term to support the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s struggle against workers’ claims for compensation of football players who were injured in games or practices. The defense of student athlete assisted the National Collegiate Athletic Association to success and prevented countless liability cases. In 1974, Kent Waldrep, a former running back for Texas Christian University (TCU), was paralyzed due to an injury during a game against the University of Alabama. For years, Waldrep and his family managed on charity to help pay for expenses until TCU discontinued paying for his medical bills. In 1991, Waldrep sued when he found out that the Division I colleges carried life changing insurance for all football players. Originally, Waldrep acquired about $70 per week for the accident’s medical and life cost, until the insurance carrier of TCU appealed. In 2000, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Kent Waldrep was not considered as an employee at TCU because the university expected him to engage in sports as he was enrolled as a student.

A survey expert, John Dennis, discovered in 2013 that about 70% of people are divergent to the idea of paying college athletes. This is including the scholarships that are given to each student for the sport they are participating in. Are they wrong? An athlete that receives a full-ride scholarship includes the costs of tuition and fees, course books, room, and board. Basically, athletes are receiving a free education in order to play sports. There are many other athletes who also receive Federal Pell Grants to pay for schooling. Aside from Pell Grants, schools that are at Division 1 level offer students’ multiyear scholarships. These types of scholarships are obtainable for more than one academic school year. According to NCAA, “Additionally, Division 1 schools may pay for student athletes to finish their bachelor’s or master’s degrees after they finish playing NCAA sports.” The NCAA also claims that colleges or universities that are Division 1 and II offer about $2.9 billion in scholarships to more than 150,000 athletes yearly. Unfortunately, colleges that are Division III are not offered scholarships for athletics. This is one out of many reasons why college athletes shouldn’t be paid considering they are getting a free education.

More importantly, if all universities started to discontinue giving athletic scholarships to athletes and began paying them, taxes would be involved. “Depending on the student-athlete’s income, those taxes could be high enough to reduce what they earn until they can barely cover tuition, according to John R. Thelin in his article “Here’s Why We Shouldn’t Pay College Athletes (Martinez, 2017).” If we start to pay college athletes and took away scholarship opportunities, college tuition and other school expenses wouldn’t be deductible under the IRS requirements. It would be a category under state and federal income taxes. When the income amount exceeds the IRS eligibility limit, it is not deductible. Thus, if scholarships were to disappear, tuition and college payments would no longer be deductible because athletes are now on a salary pay. “According to the federal tax code, the $45,000 tuition award is deductible, but room and board are not. The student-athlete will be able to deduct book expenses and qualify for a tax credit under the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), reducing his tax (Thelin, 2016).” Depending on what the athlete’s salary would be, once the federal income tax, state tax, and other taxes, for instance, Social Security, are taken out of the athlete’s salary, they would be left with hardly anything to pay for additional expenses.

The other reason to consider is the overall fairness between athlete to athlete for all sports. Who is to say how much each player should get? How will universities control the concept of pay transparency to each athlete? These questions are important to think about because if one player realizes another player is receiving a higher salary for the same sport, it will most definitely initiate conflict between the two. For example, athletes may leave or transfer to another university or possibilities could be ignored due to conflicts. Universities must consider all sports if they are getting paid. If one sport is getting paid, all sports will want to be paid. For example, if the men’s and women’s basketball is getting paid, what about the football team or track and field team? What if the women’s softball team doesn’t generate as much revenue as the other sports? Do they get paid? Will the university have enough money to support the salaries for all team members? For example, in 2015, Auburn University presented its latest add-on, a high-definition monitor in their stadium that was nearly 11,000 square feet. This screen costed the university about $13.9 million. Certainly, if Auburn can afford expenses such as a new screen for their stadium, they can afford to pay the athletes, right? According to List Land, “However, what these people do not realize is that the Auburn athletic department posted a $17 million deficit in 2014 and this screen was the equivalent of a ‘Hail Mary’ pass to try to bring more money into the program.” Unfortunately, Auburn University isn’t the only school like this. Rutgers University is in a very similar situation as they made developmental changes to their football stadium that amounted to $102 million. However, Rutgers University’s deficit for their athletic program reached $36 million.

The other main issue is considering how college athletes are not professionals nor should they be paid like one. College athletes are examined to be amateurs and are choosing to play in a college sport. The idea of a university is to learn and obtain a degree. There are a few important differences that must be distinguished between an amateur athlete and professionals. The biggest factor to consider is noting how professional athletes are paid and college athletes are not. According to FindLaw, “Amateur athletes who are compensated for their performance in any way beyond their athletic scholarships can be stripped of their amateur status by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or other college athletic organizations.” While amateurs are more goal oriented and concerned on what their results are, professionals stick to habits to help them succeed. Overtime, professionals recognize their accomplishments that helps them improve their overall success.

Furthermore, approximately 7% of high school athletes that strive to play in college have the ability to do so. From the 7% of players who go to play college sports, as few as 2% go to play at Division I schools. The opportunity for a high school athlete to play in college is a privilege. Getting to play in college sports is a wonderful opportunity and it’s not every day that someone gets the chance to do so. In order to qualify to play in Division I level, a high school athlete must meet all NCAA requirements and register under the NCAA eligibility center. If the athlete doesn’t meet the requirements, they can’t play or compete their first year. The dedicated athlete must have a GPA of at least 2.3 or higher while an academic redshirt must have at least 2.0 or higher. With even more surprising facts, according to Best Colleges Online, “ThinkProgress, reported that out of the 65 teams that played in March Madness 2005, 43 of them would not have qualified if there was a 50% graduation rate requirement.” In other words, a significant amount of March Madness players are not qualified to graduate.

As we consider the amount of time an athlete spends studying for school and sports, it’s virtually impossible for them to find a job to make some sort of income to pay for other expenses. Let’s not forget the athletes who are at risk for injuries that could potentially end their career in sports. Injuries alone can set a player back from practicing or put their sports career on hold. Sports with large amounts of physical contact such as football or basketball, should be strong enough reasons for the players to receive revenue as they entertain thousands of fans and the university. The money they earn from playing sports could help them in the long run from medical expenses due to sports-related injuries.

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Another argument as to why college athletes deserve to be paid is considering the salary income that the head coaches make. According to The Triangle, “Nick Saban, who is the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide Football team, made $11 million this past season, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll were both paid over $1 million.” When head coaches are making millions and the athletes are receiving nothing, alarming questions begin to arise. As we look at the annual income for the standard football coach, those numbers do not compare to the income of head coaches in the NCAA at top colleges and universities. In 2017, after the North Carolina basketball team won the national championship, the players received hats and attire while the head coach, Roy Williams, acquired $925,000 in bonuses.

In addition, college athletes would strongly benefit from sponsorship agreements with popular brands such as Adidas, UnderArmour, or Nike. Endorsement deals with profitable brands like these would benefit athletes as they would be able to bring in revenue to support themselves or their families if needed. Umbel states, “Sponsors like Alaska Airlines are partnering with universities on events like the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge and finding new ways to benefit students both on and off the field.” Supporting education in the groups they are in is becoming progressively essential for many sponsors. It’s not common for an athlete to have some type of social media account like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter where they try to promote themselves. Sponsors are wanting to see teams and players promote their brand online to gain more supporters in order to be interested in their merchandise. Besides offering developed fan demographics information, the athletes can show the sponsor’s worth by demonstrating that the supporters previously had the attraction for the product.

The overall response to these objections is, it would be unfair if college athletes were to be paid for their efforts and place on the team. It’s difficult to ignore the fact that athletes are receiving a free education to play a sport and typically graduate without having any student loans to pay back. The statistics behind the number of student loans is tremendous. Playing in a college sport is a choice made by the individual, although, there are many detailed requirements that must be met before playing. It’s very understandable that playing in a college sport is a lot work and the player must be focused all the time. When it comes to the students who attend the university, they may find a social imbalance between the athletes and students who aren’t in a sport getting paid. Many students struggle to pay off student loans and work just as hard as a college athlete. It may not be the same exact work, but studying and understanding concepts does count as being “work.” Furthermore, the whole idea of going to college is about earning a degree and finding a career to grow into such as a nurse, accountant, or a chiropractor, etc. The more practical idea to benefit both the university and the athletes is the sponsorship agreements from admired athletic brands.

After weighing all of the evidence, the determination of whether college athletes should get paid for their efforts will always be a continuing debate and open-ended argument. The fact that an athlete receives a full-ride scholarship which includes the costs of tuition, fees, course books, room, and board means that athletes are receiving a free education in order to play sports. Along with this, is the social stratification that can occur between the athletes and students due to the inequality in being paid. The physical exercise that an athlete chooses to endure over their college career shouldn’t be any different from the mental exercise that a student endures from studying. Therefore, it would not be a realistic idea to pay athletes, as this could cause more issues, conflicts and financial strains within the university and student life.


  • 14 Surprising Facts About Being a College Athlete. (n.d.). Retrieved from Best Online Colleges: //
  • 8 Ways That College Sports Teams Can Use Data to Prove Value to Sponsors. (2015, October 15). Retrieved from Smart Data Collective: //
  • Anderson, D. (2016, March 17). Top 10 Reasons College Athletes Should Not Be Paid. Retrieved from List Land: //
  • Brooks, M. (2018, June 1). College athletes deserve to be paid for their play. Retrieved from The Triangle: //
  • Martinez, M. (2017, March 20). Should College Student-Athletes Be Paid? Both Sides of the Debate. Retrieved from College Xpress: //
  • Scholarships. (n.d.). Retrieved from NCAA: //
  • Solomon, J. (2018, April 23). The History Behind the Debate Over Paying NCAA Athletes. Retrieved from The Aspen Institute: //
  • Student Athletes: Background on Amateurs vs. Professionals. (n.d.). Retrieved from FindLaw: //
  • Thelin, J. R. (2016, March 1). Here’s Why We Shouldn’t Pay College Athletes. Retrieved from Money: //


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