Payments to Collegiate Athletes


Collegiate athletes’ payment is an issue growingly becoming controversial. This has led to the eternal debate on it, with opponents and proponents validating their points viciously. As a result, an increased number of lawsuits have been filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the organization dedicated to equipping and safeguarding student-athletes well-being success in classrooms and on playing fields. With the body continuously being under criticism from both the athletes and other affiliates, it is essential to provide a proper solution. Therefore, it is crucial to compensate collegiate athletes an amount significant to their efforts in the field. Regardless of age or status quo, everyone deserves payment when they put their time and effort into an activity.

Background to the Issue

Student-athlete payment has been an issue since the 1990s when the term “student-athlete” was first used. Since then, there have been various landmark court decisions supporting or denying this compensation with ongoing public criticism. College athletics in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry, with NCAA making an average of $1 billion in profits annually, as stated by Johnson and Acquaviva (par. 1). These athletes earn nothing from these profits as their share is purportedly used to fund their education. Apart from the association, other beneficiaries also include school directors, apparel companies, sports agents, athletic departments, coaches, and video game producers (Sanderson and Siegfried 116). These individuals make millions of profits from commercializing athletes’ images, names, and likenesses.

With such figures, even with free education, it is essential to consider paying the athletes for their efforts. According to Sanderson and Siegfried, most athletes end up with college degrees, with their pockets receiving only a portion of the quality education (116). Some of these athletes have had to choose between sportsmanship and academics due to low appreciation levels and lack of reward for their efforts. With such realities, college athletes might take a stand to claim compensation which may lead to undesired ramifications in U.S. sports. This is because the free education according to them is not a true reflection of what they should be earning.

Support for the Position

College Sports Are Similar to Full-Time Jobs

The call for payment has primarily been underpinned because the student-athletes spend as many resources on these games. O’Bannon et al. argue that athletes spend about 40 hours weekly in training sessions and games, which is almost similar to working full-time jobs (10). This is amid the students having to balance between their demanding academic work like assignments and other responsibilities. As stated by Johnson and Acquaviva, if a student fails to keep up with the intense balance between school and sports, they are also likely to lose their scholarship (par. 7). Moreover, some students have had to sacrifice their studies to ensure their field performance is not under scrutiny. With this much sacrifice and effort into the teams’ success and increase in the college games’ competitiveness, the students need to get paid for their efforts.

All Expenses Are Not Catered for in Scholarships

The notion that athletic scholarships provide free education is a misleading one. When offered in total, these scholarships often cover fees, tuition, books, room, and board. This amounts to about $20,000 to $100,000 over a four-year program, as estimated by Johnson and Acquaviva (par. 9). However, this is not a reflection of the whole college attendance cost. It is estimated that the amount is less by about $2,000 (Sanderson and Siegfried 119). This means that students have to go back to their pockets to cater to these expenses. Additionally, as athletes, they have other crucial expenses, such as their wardrobe for special events and food. Other student-athletes have to pay for online essays to be allowed to participate in certain games. With some of these students emanating from modest backgrounds with little or no support from their parents, the scholarships do not necessarily help them enjoy the free education they desire. This increasingly forces them to work other jobs within and around the school to cater to themselves fully. For students making so much for the NCAA and other organizations, this is uncalled for.

Potential for Injury

Athletes are often at risk of getting severe life-threatening injuries. When an athlete is seriously injured, they are likely to lose their scholarships, which impedes their sportsmanship and education. These injuries jeopardize their professionalism, where they might potentially get opportunities to earn millions. Moreover, the athletes might be left disabled or even die. For instance, Ray Dennison, who played for Fort Lewis A&M, lost his life from a head injury sustained in a football match collision in Trinidad (Sanderson and Siegfried 120). This is enough evidence that with so much danger, the students are deserving of compensation at least to act as a backup in case of such catastrophes. Moreover, in the face of these injuries, the students might require specialized care, forcing them to find alternative ways to fend for their health. This is because the students are also at high risk of experiencing chronic traumatic encephalopathy’s (CTE) long-term effects and concussions. Another study asserts that over 91% of former football players who have died often have CTE (Sanderson and Siegfried 120). This is probably because these students lack the proper financial support to cater to their health and well-being as desired.

Contribution to the Status of Colleges

Most colleges across the U.S. owe their appealing statuses to their sports teams. This is because the achievement of these teams often translates to increased fame and a more desirable status. As such, these colleges can attract massive sports and academic talents. Moreover, as a result of the popularity, they can increase tuition fees due to increased demand. Thus, these colleges become more selective in admission, and their recognition rises across the country. All this is attributed to the student-athletes who seemingly act as advertising agents for their schools. Their conduct on and off the pitch serves as a means to market their schools. According to Johnson and Acquaviva, marketing agencies are known to charge about $500 and $5,000 monthly to ensure a given school gets noticed to attract as many students (par. 7). Some of these agencies often end up with little or no results despite the schools’ investment. However, these athletes do this for free, and the results they get are way higher than those of marketing agencies. Therefore, as agents to their schools, they need compensation as much as they do indirectly.

Need for Investment in Future

There is a growing need for college athletes to leave school with significant savings in addition to their relevant degrees. This is needed to help them cope with the ever-increasing demands of adult life. Thelin argues that having money post-college life is the only way to manage life after four years of being stars in their various schools. Moreover, society also has a stereotypical view that fame is directly linked to wealth. Therefore, they are imagined to have a lot of money, leading to mental issues such as depression when they do not have much money. Worse still, Comeaux asserts that some of the student-athletes never get drafted into salaried positions post-school. With four years of sportsmanship and nothing to show for it, these students are always likely to end up in a tight spot (76). This is because they neither have savings nor the desired position in a given situation. Moreover, most of these students invest a lot of time in sports, which impedes their academic work, and they often graduate with unsatisfactory grades. As such, these students might end up being unemployed with increased competition in the job market. With so many factors working against them, appropriate payment over the school teams’ four-year period is the best way to have security over the uncertainties post-graduation.

Compensation Makes the Games More Competitive

Student-athletes, just as other professionals, require motivation to do their best in the field. The hope for financial compensation provides the perfect spot for this kind of stimulation. They get the stimulus to put in more work to have better rankings and increase their opportunities to earn bonuses (O’Bannon 65). Moreover, with payment, the students can concentrate on their activities in the field. They have reduced the stress and anxiety of money and their financial situation. With everyone having complete focus on what goes on in the pitch, increased competition is likely. Consequently, according to Sanderson and Siegfried, this leads to increased profits, which benefit both the students and the NCAA (123). Therefore, payment for these college athletes creates a conducive platform for generating more income despite the increased expenditure. Moreover, it increases the credibility of these games as it depicts their true nature at full potential.

Opposing Claims

Payment through Education

The primary dispute regarding student-athletes ‘ payment has always been based on the vital and invaluable service that the universities and colleges offer to the students. Often, quality education is equated as the prize and compensation for these athletes. Johnson and Acquaviva argue that those with college degrees are likely to have lifetime earnings of more than $1 million compared to their non-graduate counterparts (par. 3). In this sense, these athletes are allowed to earn more which beats the point of compensation at such a tender age. Moreover, the students are provided with a full scholarship which means that they get this invaluable service for free. In contrast, other students have to spend between $30,000 and $200,000 or more to fend for the service depending on their institution (Comeaux 87). This substantial cost is borne by their schools which opponents believe is enough appreciation for their pitches’ efforts.

Equity Issues

Another opposing claim is the issue of inequity that may arise as a result of the payment. Primarily, with revenues, these athletes are likely to live at a level higher than their colleagues. This is likely to lead to disparities in these institutions due to social status (Thelin). Moreover, those who earn are likely to unionize and discriminate against those who do not get anything (Johnson and Acquaviva par. 4). This is likely to cause significant mindset distortions in the schools and may, in the long run, affect their academic performance due to the overwhelming pressure of so much income. Critiques also claim that these equity issues may arise from wealthier schools’ possibility of disrupting the competitive balance by buying talent (Thelin). Certain schools are likely to be more successful than others because of a better financial position (Comeaux 106). This would make the games less competitive and leave them in the hands of a few schools that can pay the student-athletes higher wages.

The Decision on Who Gets Paid

Payment of student-athletes would lead to an eternal dilemma on who to be paid and who not be paid. Football and basketball are the games that, in most cases, bring considerable income to their institutions. However, if the athletes who participate in these games are to be paid, then those in volleyball, swimming, tennis, or even golf teams are also likely to demand payment (Comeaux 111). With such significant cost increases, colleges and universities are unlikely to manage all their activities within their financial budgets.


Despite those opposed to student-athletes’ payments having valid arguments, their positions still do not beat these individuals’ numbers. Primarily, the role of education is viewed as the prize is an antiquated one. The world has grown, and this only means that people have more needs. The satisfaction of these needs is dependent on getting a considerable amount of income (O’Bannon et al. 300). This is because education cannot pay for an athlete’s daily expenditure as it is a more or less long-term investment.

Moreover, the equity issues cited are misguided as they involve a wide array of assumptions. Even today, there are regulations in place on recruitment to ensure fairness is upheld across schools (Comeaux 167). Furthermore, schools have rules and regulations on discrimination of whichever nature ensures equity is maintained. The claim on equity seems to be targeted to stifle these athletes’ rights and freedoms, which is an infringement of their constitutional rights.

Additionally, deciding who gets paid is not as dilemmatic as posed by those with opposing views on student-athlete payment. Even in the workplace today, compensation is commensurate to the effort and the revenues brought by a given individual (O’Bannon et al. 306). This, therefore, means that those teams that earn the school’s income are the ones justified in payment. This will motivate the other groups to become more competitive to make just as much income, which will increase revenue flow to their schools.


The discussion on the payment of student-athletes has been debated over for years. However, the NCAA acknowledged these students’ efforts and made the requisite compensation to each of them based on their performance. Students and schools with exceptional results should be awarded bonuses as appropriate to keep the competitive spirit and motivation high. Therefore, the government and affiliated state bodies need to develop relevant regulations that ensure much-needed justice is served to these future professional sportsmen and women. Without this, these games are likely to face many challenges in ensuring that the best talents are exposed as desired to the world of sports.

Works Cited

Comeaux, Eddie. College Athletes’ Rights and Well-Being. JHUP, 2017.

Johnson, Dennis A., and Acquaviva John. “Point/ Counterpoint: Paying College Athletes.” The Sports Journal, vol 15, no. 1, 2012.

O’Bannon, Ed, et al. Court Justice: The Inside Story Of My Battle against the NCAA. Diversion Books, 2018.

Sanderson, Allen R., and John J. Siegfried. “The Case for Paying College Athletes.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol 29, no. 1, 2015, pp. 115-138. American Economic Association.

Thelin, John. “The Impact on College Sports Programs if Athletes are Paid (Opinion).” Insidehighered. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. "Payments to Collegiate Athletes." April 15, 2023.