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Baker Mayfield, quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners (left); Kris Jenkins, forward for the Villanova Wildcats, the 2016 NCAA champions (right)

CREDIT: Photo Illustration by Vanessa Irena; Thurman James/Cal Sport Media via AP Images (football player); Mitchell Layton/Getty Images (basketball player)

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s college basketball tournament is known as March Madness. That’s because the annual playoffs, which more than 20 million people watch on TV, is one of the most popular sporting events in the country. 

But March Madness is also big business. TV networks pay the NCAA hundreds of millions of dollars per year for the rights to air the games, and advertisers can pay up to $1.5 million for a 30-second TV ad that runs during the tournament. 

Considering how much money the players generate for the NCAA and their schools, should college athletes be paid? Here, two experts weigh in.


The college sports establishment likes to call the athletes who play varsity sports at universities “student athletes.” A far more accurate term would be “athlete students.” Putting the word “athlete” first would at least let everybody know what the priorities are. 

This is especially true for football and men’s basketball players. Why? Because unlike every other student who has been accepted into the universities they play for, the football and basketball players are there to generate revenue for the school. Without that athletic ability, many of them wouldn’t have been admitted.

My belief that football and men’s basketball players should be paid is based almost entirely on economics. College football and basketball are multibillion-dollar businesses. They have billion-dollar TV deals and corporate team sponsors. The coaches for these teams earn millions. Even the assistant coaches make hundreds of thousands. Schools have money for fancy training facilities, charter jets to away games, and state-of-the-art arenas. Yet the labor force—and that’s what the players are—gets nothing. Name another industry where labor gets nothing. You can’t.

Men’s basketball and football players are there to make money for the school.

The NCAA and the college sports establishment argue that the players are “students first” and that amateurism is the essence of college sports. Yet players have to choose classes that don’t interfere with practice. Indeed, they often don’t really get much of an education because the team comes first, they put in 50 hours a week on their sport, and their coach is effectively their boss, with the ability to cut them from the team, just like a pro coach.  

The truth is that fans wouldn’t care if players were paid.  But the college sports establishment uses the self-serving argument about amateurism because, frankly, it has helped them get very rich.



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College athletics provide hundreds of thousands of student athletes the opportunity to play the sports they love while getting the education and skills they need to succeed after college. Paying students to play would turn them into employees, shifting their focus away from academics. After all, of the more than 480,000 NCAA student athletes, fewer than 2 percent go on to play professional sports.

Among NCAA student athletes, 15 percent say they wouldn’t even be in college without their sport. That experience is made possible by the $2.7 billion in athletic scholarships awarded each year by NCAA schools. Unlike many of their peers, scholarship student athletes don’t leave school burdened by a mountain of student loan debt.

Recently, the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern, and Pac-12 conferences redefined athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of college, including living expenses that fall outside the traditional tuition, such as transportation, books, fees, and room and board. Also, those schools can no longer revoke a scholarship solely for athletics reasons, and many other conferences have followed suit.

Many people wrongly believe that the NCAA and its members earn millions of dollars in profit annually. In fact, athletic departments that take in more money than they spend are a distinct minority, and the NCAA distributes 90 percent of its revenue back to member campuses and conferences. That money funds programs supporting the academic needs and well-being of student athletes.

Paying students to play would shift their focus away from academics. 

Paying college athletes would force many schools to make tough choices and field fewer athletic teams. It would rob many students of the chance not only to compete but also to learn the life skills that participating in sports imparts: time management, resilience, discipline, and teamwork. The NCAA is committed to fairness and helping all student athletes achieve their dreams. While we have made great strides, we recognize we have work to do. Paying students to play is not the way to get there.



Senior Vice President of Communications, NCAA

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