Why student athletes shouldn’t be paid

Students from Dayton University celebrate their upset over Syracuse in 2014’s March Madness tournament. Should they have been paid for their athletic contributions? Photo by Chad Cooper via Flickr

Student athletes should not be paid. It’s that simple, and as a current student athlete myself, I couldn’t be more comfortable saying that.

What makes us any different than any other student?

Student athletes already have a head start on regular students who have to pay for their own university classes. In 2013/14, the governing body of university sports in Canada, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (changed to U Sports in 2016/17) announced that member universities offered $16 million in student athlete scholarships.

To add insult to injury, the much-maligned American university sport institution, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), reports schools in Division I or Division II provide a whopping $2.9 billion towards student athletes each year through scholarships.

So why, I ask, are high-ranking public faces banging down on the doors of the NCAA begging for more money?

Hall of Fame basketball player and NCAA star at UCLA in the late 1960s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a piece for the Guardian earlier this year advocating fiercely for paying college athletes.

“During the three weeks of March Madness basketball (the NCAA’s annual Division I tournament) last year, the NCAA earned $900 million dollars while $9.2 billion was gambled on the outcome. The players banging it out on the courts earned zip. Nada. Nothing,” said Abdul-Jabbar.

“Athletes must focus on their studies while also working a more than full- time job in the gym. Playing basketball at UCLA was a seven-days-a-week job, involving intense practices, learning new plays, playing home games, and travelling around the country to compete against other schools.”

Abdul-Jabbar seems to hold an increasingly popular belief amongst Americans, 40 per cent of whom responded  in favour of paying student athletes more than their athletic scholarship in a 2017 Seton Hall Sports poll—an 11 per cent increase from 2013.

Former NCAA collegiate football quarterback at Texas A&M, and winner of the 2012 Heisman Trophy and title of  ‘most outstanding player in college football in the United States’, Johnny Manziel shares Abdul-Jabbar’s views.

Earlier this month, Manziel tweeted a 2013 Time magazine issue, featuring him displaying the Heisman Trophy pose on the front cover, that says in bold words, “It’s time to pay college athletes.” His caption for the tweet? “IT’S TIME! The NCAA is a joke.”

However, if you think that it’s just former NCAA athletes suggesting they should compensate current players, then you would be dead wrong.

Current National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with CNN that “he has no issues at all” with the NCAA paying athletes.

I wonder — by paying student athletes, what motivation would they have to go to class? If we start to give these student athletes money, they are losing their amateur label and essentially becoming professional athletes.

This conundrum is even highlighted in Silver’s NBA, where NCAA basketball players are routinely being known as ‘one and dones.’

For some backstory — up until the 2006 draft, players could be drafted to the NBA straight out of high school. Now, in order to incentivize young athletes to actually go to university, the NBA enforces a rule that states you have to be 19 years old, or one year removed from high school, before being eligible to be drafted. This was the start of the term ‘one and done,’ which described those players who bolted out of their college after one year, heading for the pros.

In the 2017 NBA draft, there were 14 ‘one and done’ players taken in the first round, which broke the record of 13 in 2015. Now, if the NCAA were paying college athletes, for those players it would basically be a year’s extension of professional basketball, the only difference being they are competing at the university level.

I know first-hand that being a student athlete is hard, and I know that managing the responsibilities of school work and athletics takes a strain on your physical and mental well-being.

But, the primary goal of university should not be to hone your athletic talent for the pros — it should be to receive a degree.

Being able to go to university is an honour and a privilege. Paying players on top of their athletic scholarships, encouraging them to cut class and train for the pros, and making them semi-professional athletes is the exact opposite of what the ‘student athlete’ label embodies.

I urge those in favour of paying student athletes to remember: the student part comes before the athlete.


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