College Athletes Should Be Paid

The US Supreme Court once ruled that the only way to preserve the character and quality of college athletics was to never pay the athletes. This was in 1984 when the majority opinion of the court was being read by Justice John Paul Stevens (Smith 1). It appears that the pay-or-not-pay debate has lasted for decades because the issue remains divisive. Many professional sports are lucrative for athletes, especially due to the massive sponsorship deals with corporations. A recent ruling by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) may change the course of this debate forever because it provided a way for athletes to make money. Regardless of the rulings, college athletics has become a professional sport that should pay offer adequate compensation to the participants.

College athletes could be considered the most underappreciated people in sports because of the amateur tag they carry. Intercollegiate competition is not regarded as a professional tournament and such aspects as responsibility, integrity, and quality of the sports have been used to back the not-pay side of the argument. Being non-professional means that the sport does not generate any income to guarantee athletes any compensation. The truth in this statement remains to be established, especially at an age where many corporations use all forms of sports as avenues for marketing (Manoli 2). Additionally, huge sums of money are being spent on partnerships with sports organizations, which often go to salaries for athletes and the development of sports infrastructure. The naming rights for venues and other forms of partnerships are seen as one of the most crucial marketing practices. The argument is that sports are followed by billions of people across the world. Therefore, all sports organizations can be expected to make enough revenues to support their athletes.

Sponsorship in sports means that the sports organizations generate revenues, something which the NCAA acknowledged. It is important to acknowledge that NCAA supports the idea of paying athletes because it is a proven way of attracting students to sports (Jessop and Sabin 254). Talent can be easy to attract with significant compensation potential. In professional sports, many athletes are remunerated based on many aspects, including their prowess and the sponsorships they attract. Since the NCAA makes money from college athletics, most of the funds should go towards compensating those individuals who participate in the sports. Additionally, the popularity of college sports means that many companies would be willing to partner with the sports organizers and the students through sponsorship deals. There should be no law preventing companies from sponsoring players in any sports, and this includes those in college. It is a matter of fair play that students contemplating pursuing sports as a career should start experiencing the real benefits while still in school. This should offer adequate motivation for them to pursue sports even beyond graduation.

Considering the popularity of modern sports, college athletics should no longer carry the amateur tag. However, it should be understood that the essence of intercollegiate sports should be preserved even when the athletes are being paid. The argument is that even professional sports retain their quality even though star athletes are offered lucrative deals. Clubs purchase and trade in players that allow them to achieve their goals. With adequate financial fair-play rules, the quality of sports cannot be destroyed by money. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the need to retain quality and character no longer hold. Additionally, Smith indicates that college athletes have been receiving financial favors since the first tournament was played in 1852 (1). In this case, the money does not seem to endanger the quality because colleges can always field the best athletes for them to win. To attract the best, the financial incentives remain critical because college students often prioritize their academic goals. College athletics are broadcast across mainstream media and attract sponsorship deals. These are not features of an amateur sport to deny athletes fair compensation.

The not-pay side of the debate can be effectively supported by the argument that non-professional sports do not generate revenues. However, this position no longer holds since it has been established that NCAA generates significant revenues from sponsorships. Having determined that there is money in college athletics, paying the students becomes a matter of fairness. According to Grenardo, everyone else involved in major college athletics gets paid, except the athletes (203). In a free and fair system, the athletes are the ultimate assets in sports because without them no tournaments could take place. The NCAA can be perceived as a business that sells a product, in this case, sports. The product is the labor produced by the student-athletes, which is the most important component in college athletes. Using such an economic model, it follows that all labor produced in NCAA should be justly compensated. It is not fair that college athletes are the only ones not to reap partake in sharing the returns from athletics. It could be demoralizing for potential athletes to realize that all their work and efforts go towards rewarding other people.

Having adopted a free-market approach to the discussion, it is also important to explore where the money comes from. As mentioned earlier, many companies partner with sporting organizations through sponsorship deals and naming rights. Additionally, individual athletes are used as product and brand ambassadors. All these are marketing activities that have commercial value for businesses, some of which are transferred to the players. Names, images, and likeness (NIL) are all rights given to companies by the athletes in exchange for compensation. Therefore, the recent ruling by NCAA seems to reflect the realization that students hold these rights and that their usage should be consented to by the athletes and compensation offered accordingly. Some observers believe that the decision to pay athletes for the NIL is the result of public pressure (Towey). However, it can be argued that it is an economic problem where athletes produce labor that should be rewarded. The level of compensation should reflect the amounts of revenues generated from college athletics, the role of colleges, the NCAA, and all other stakeholders actively involved in sports.

One can also appreciate the argument among the proponents of the not-pay side of the debate. This includes the 1984 opinion by the Supreme Court that the character and quality should be sustained (Smith 1). Those who hold this position presume that paying students will mean that most participate in the sports for the money as opposed to the spirit of the report. In professional sports, the clubs often attract the best talent through better pay packages. Additionally, big businesses decide whom to sponsor based on their social influence, which includes the perceived number of supporters. In the age of social media, the number of followers among the players plays a key role in determining the compensation because businesses see followers as a potential market. An illustration of how popularity has been explained by Towey, who suggests that such players as the Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler could attract lucrative deals because of their appearances in Netflix films. Such an argument is valid because students go to college to pursue academic goals more than anything else. Money could be a motivation for most students to join sports.

The validity of the opposing views should not veto the final decision on the matter. This is because while students can join sports for money, only the best ones make the teams and get to become stars and celebrities. The essence of any sport should be to display the talent and prowess of the athletes. While some people are born with talent, others put much more effort into training ad practicing to become successful. Money does not attract poorer athletes because all competitions are won by the best teams with the best players. In this case, offering compensation could be a way of attracting those with hidden talents who would have otherwise not joined sports. Additionally, attracting the best talent means the audience will be treated to the ultimate spectacle the athletes compete across the tournaments. The quality will improve due to heightened competition and the character will also gain significant upgrades.

An important observation is that modern college athletics are increasingly mirroring professional sports. Therefore, the NCAA should become a stepping stone for students hoping to pursue sports as a career. The age of social media means that celebrities will emerge from sports who could be used by companies to market their products. Additionally, online gaming in sports is becoming increasingly popular and some companies have offered to include real college athletes in games. Therefore, college athletics offer students an opportunity to become professionals while still studying. The amount of money available for them is significant to assure them a livelihood as long as they are in sports. Sports activities may also take students’ time that could have been used studying to improve one’s academic outcomes. In many cases, academic achievements can assure students success in life through better careers. Therefore, most athletes may not have this opportunity to work on their academics, which could put them at a disadvantage. Therefore, the students will be compensated both for their labor and the time that could have been used in an activity that offers the athletes more benefits.

Therefore, the overall position held is that college athletics are no longer amateur and the athletes deserve to be compensated for their labor and get sponsorships when playing. Sponsorship deals are seen as the most common way that sports organizations make money while the athletes are seen as the labor used to produce the entertainment in sport. Even without sponsorships, the fact that NCAA makes money and pays everyone else is a good reason to pay the athletes. The NIL rights can only be consented to by the players and it is them who should get most of the financial rewards. The commercial value of names, images, and likeness means that college athletes have every right to demand compensation.

Works Cited

Grenardo, David. “The Blue Devil’s In the Details: How A Free Market Approach To Compensating College Athletes Would Work.” Pepperdine Law Review, vol. 46, no. 2, 2019, pp. 203-276.

Jessop, Alicia, and Joe Sabin. “The Sky Is Not Falling: Why Name, Image, and Likeness Legislation Does Not Violate Title IX and Could Narrow the Publicity Gap between Men’s Sport and Women’s Sport Athletes.” Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport vol. 31, no. 2, 2021, pp. 253-288.

Manoli, Argyro. “Sport Marketing’s Past, Present, and Future; An Introduction to the Special Issue on Contemporary Issues in Sports Marketing.” Journal of Strategic Marketing vol. 26, no. 1, 2017pp. 1-5.

Smith, Ronald. The Myth of the Amateur: A History of College Athletic Scholarships. University of Texas Press, 2021.

Towey, Hannah. “These College Athletes Could Make Millions Now that a Recent NCAA Ruling Allows Them to Make Money Off Their Name and Likeness for the First Time.” 2021. Business Insider. Web.

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