Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The capitalist system has proved to favor some more than others for centuries, and nowadays, many issues arise from this uneven distribution of wealth and benefits. One of these issues is the problem of college athletes who sign contracts with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) but are not getting paid for their performance. While students are facing the difficulties of paying for their education and providing for themselves, governmental bodies get hundreds of millions in profits annually. Although the debate on whether college athletes should or should not get paid is still heated, it is clear that any work requires adequate remuneration, and athletic work is no exception to the rule.

The ongoing trend among the U.S. states to let college students receive money for their athletic performance demonstrates that the focus is shifting in a positive direction, but it appears that there are still critics of such measures. Among the reasons against remuneration, they list, for example, the difficulty to implement such policies and to determine the body responsible for the payments (“The Perspective,” n.d.). Some of them even say that earning big money too soon can be harmful to the career prospects of the young athletes or claim that it will distract them from getting an education and being prepared for real life (“The Perspective,” n.d.). Nevertheless, none of these arguments can provide a valid explanation for the reason college athletes’ performance only benefits the government and big corporations, leaving those who did all the work out of any consideration.

Still, the critics seemingly represent the minority in the heated debate, while the majority, represented by college students, celebrities, politicians, and experts believe the time has come to change the existing paradigm. The basic argument is evident – college athletes are workers, and workers are supposed to be paid (Wakamo, 2019). The first one to act on the issue was the state of California, where in October of 2019, the bill allowing college students to make money off their name and likeness passed with an overwhelming majority (Wakamo, 2019. Surprisingly, the trend was then picked up by Florida, New York, and Illinois (Dwyer, 2019). Moreover, national politicians signaled that Congress might review the possibility of passing similar legislation (Dwyer, 2019). Later that month, the NCAA announced its plans to let college athletes get compensation for their work (Dwyer, 2019). While that could be viewed as a revolutionary move to replace the unfair practices, it was added that they just started to work out the details (Dwyer, 2019). Overall, it means that the process could take some unclear time period and nullifies the value of the statement itself.

While the trend signaled above is an improvement, more dimensions of the existing problem require attention. It is not only the government and corporations that are the primary beneficiaries in the system – college coaches are the highest-paid public workers in more than half of the American states (Wakamo, 2019). In other words, while the athletes themselves are struggling to balance training, their studies, and work, often left with no money to satisfy some basic needs, everyone else in the chain gets their piece. Thus, it is clear that change is essential and very hard-won.

Apart from that, rules’ violations often take place, and that is concerning. For instance, while, according to NCAA, student-athletes are allowed to spend no more than 20 hours a week on their training, the reports state that many put in from 30 to 40 hours (Wakamo, 2019). Consequently, it is a regular job that requires their undivided attention. With that much effort sacrificed, less than 1.5% end up having a professional career in sports (Wakamo, 2019). The rest is left to find a job somewhere else in the labor market, but that unveils another problem in the existing system.

Education first agenda is a part of the current state of affairs. NCAA continuously utilizes the fact that 80% of college athletes get a degree in an attempt to justify their practices (“National Collegiate Athletic Association,” 2018). While that is statistically true, student-athletes are often found in the middle of the cheating scandals, as managing academic eligibility and training is hardly possible for most of them (Wakamo, 2019). With that in mind, no optimistic conclusions about their future competitiveness in the labor market can be drawn.

Overall, there is no other word that describes the existing system more precisely than the word exploitation. College athletes are the only ones left out of the chain of profits received by NCAA, corporations, and public employees that train them. The issue of ethics is one of the many that arises, but most importantly, at the end of the day, these young people remain the most vulnerable group. Skipping classes to train and become a part of that 1.5% success cases, often failing, they are thrown out in the labor market with a diploma, but almost zero relevant knowledge and competences. In the modern world, such exploitation cannot be tolerated, and, hopefully, the trend set by California will lead to the establishment of a fairer environment for young athletes.


Dwyer, C. (2019). NCAA plans to allow college athletes to get paid for use of their names, images. Web.

National Collegiate Athletic Association. (2018). Web.

The Perspective. (n.d.). Web.

Wakamo, B. (2019). Student athletes are workers; they should get paid. Web.

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