Should universities pay the athletes who work for them?

That question has been asked much recently, and articles like this one by Taylor Branch (via Andrew Sullivan) are gaining more and more prominence.

The arguments on both sides are all obvious and familiar: Pro: “they are being exploited by the universities, which make millions off their play”, “they are risking injury”, and so on. Con: “they are paid in that they get a free education”, “money would lead to corruption and a betrayal of the idea of ‘amateurism'” etc. The above article goes through all this in detail, particularly focusing on the last argument.

Personally, while I love watching collegiate sports, I do think it is a very bad sign for society that educational institutions are dedicating so many resources to them. And although I think it is true that, as things stand now, players deserve compensation for their efforts purely as a matter of fairness, I also think it is an ominous sign that matters have come so far as that.

I should also say that, if players were paid, then college athletics would be simply a pro sports league that doubled as an academic institution and thus one hampered in competing with professional organizations dedicated entirely to sport.

I would feel much better if major athletes played professionally immediately after leaving high school and bypassed college altogether. Then college athletics would be reduced back to their rightful status as something students do for amusement in their spare time.

I know that some will object that major programs, such as football and basketball, provide revenue for the University to spend on other things related to academic pursuits. I concede that this is true, however, I believe that in this instance the matter of ideals plays a role.

It’s well and good to claim the money will be used for some academic pursuit. But the universities are now using major athletic competitions as to raise funds to enable them to pursue other things. And just as people in an economy such as ours are defined by their income-earning activities, so too are institutions. If a university raises money for itself through football, then by football it is defined. What it does with its money is secondary.

This may not seem terribly important. But in my opinion, it indicates a shift in attitude which may be unhealthy, a focus upon sport at the expense of scholarship. (It is quite an irony that the means by which most of these athletes come to the university is called a “scholarship”.) The focus of the university administrators’ minds, even if not their money, is upon sport.

I repeat: I love sports. But I do not see a need, when highly successful professional sports leagues already exist, for colleges to interfere in the market.

However, this is just my opinion. It may be wrong, and regardless the existing system won’t go away. So, as matters stand now, I favor paying college athletes.

1 Comment

  1. I owe my undergraduate degree to a track scholarship, but there isn't a pro track league and the one that tried while I was in college didn't last long. Baseball has it right. There's a farm system for those that want to skip college. Top Basketball players our of high school now go to Europe to play or a little know minor league, but March Madness draws too much attention and money. It's also because of it's relatively small cost compared to Football for an otherwise unkonwn college or University to make it big like Duke and UConn. It happens, but seldom does a top Football school have a top Basketball team too. UCLA comes to mind and a few others as exceptions.In this economy there are many colleges and universities that would benefit from the top tier of the NCAA and compete on a less demanding level. This maintains what sports and scholarship were intended to combine.TV money has so corrupted the big schools that paying the players does make sense instead of looking the other way when boosters give the athletes cars, girls and money.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?