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Should College Football Players Be Paid?

Opponents say it would ruin an amateur sport; proponents say college football already seems professional

The three most lucrative college football teams in 2005—Notre Dame, Ohio State, and the University of Texas—each generated more than $60 million for their schools.

College football is not simply an extension of the university's mission to educate its students. It's big business, and everyone associated with it is getting rich except the people whose labor creates the value: the players.

There are thousands of big-time college football players, many of whom are black and poor. They put up with playing for free because it's impossible to pursue a career in the NFL unless they play at least three years in college. (Less than 1 percent actually end up signing pro contracts, and even fewer ever make serious money.)

Opponents of paying college players say that college sports should not be commercialized. But college football is already commercialized for everyone except those who play it. Ticket sales and network TV broadcasts generate huge revenues.

It's a fantasy to think that serious college football players go to college for some reason other than playing football. Otherwise, why would schools need to give coaches incentives to encourage their players to attend class? And if college football players are students first, then why do they fail to graduate at such alarming rates?

It's not that football players are too stupid to learn. It's that they're too busy. Unlike other students on campus, they have full-time jobs: playing football for nothing. It's time to start valuing the work these players do for their schools with a paycheck.

Michael Lewis
Author, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

Paying college students for playing on school teams is a bad idea for several reasons.

First, and most important, it would undermine the value of a college education: Less than 2 percent of college athletes go on to compete at the professional level. Paying student-athletes would dramatically shift their focus away from where it should be—gaining knowledge and skills for life after college.

Second, college athletes are already generously rewarded for their participation in the form of scholarships: NCAA-member schools award $1.5 billion in athletic scholarships each year. Plus, the NCAA provides more than $12 million each year to assist student-athletes with special financial needs.

Third, there is a misperception that university athletic departments are profit machines that make millions of dollars. In fact, in the past decade, only six universities consistently made a profit from athletics, while another six universities were profitable part of the time. Among schools that didn't profit from their athletic programs, the average loss was $7.8 million a year.

Paying student-athletes—even in just the higher-profile sports of football and basketball—would cost schools so much money that they would be forced to field fewer athletic teams, depriving many more students of the chance to play sports.

Finally, student-athletes should not be paid because they are students, not employees, and should be allowed to feel like students while they're still in college.

Bob Williams
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)