Should Collegiate Athletes Be Paid Like Professional Athletes

091507-USCNeb-MemorialStadiumFor years now, there has been a debate about whether or not collegiate athletes should be paid in a similar way to professional athletes. I say “in a similar way” because the NCAA already makes the argument that student-athletes are compensated through scholarships and education.

Last Saturday I was flipping through the channels after eating dinner, and I tuned in to one of the big college football matchups of the day. As I watched, I realized that there was virtually no difference between what I was watching and Sunday’s NFL games. The coaching staff, the equipment, the referees, the technology, the stadiums, the crowds, the level of professionalism by the players…really, if you didn’t know any better, you could easily think you’re watching an NFL game.

I’m not saying that the level of play is the same as professional sports. Clearly only the best college athletes will turn pro, resulting in a better overall spectacle. But either way, we’re talking about a high-level form of entertainment with a lot of money sunk into it and even more money earned from it.

So why aren’t the players getting paid?

I’ve thought about this before, but it didn’t hit me as hard as it did when I was watching that game on Saturday. This isn’t the casual football you might see at a Division III school. At Wash U, for example, we had a football team who played hard, but the main focus for each of those athletes was being a student. Football was an activity to them–one they took seriously, but still very much an activity.

There is a huge difference between that type of college sport and what you see at a Division I school, especially with football, but also with basketball. These are athletes first and students a distant second. Without realizing it, they are performing the job of entertaining people like you and me–the same job that NFL players are paid millions of dollars to do.

So again, why aren’t the players getting paid?

The NCAA would say that the players are getting paid through their scholarships, which are probably worth upwards of $200,000 over four years. That’s a lot of money. But compared to the coaches who are making millions of dollars each year, that’s not much at all.  College coaches often make just as much as their NFL counterparts, but in the NFL, most players are making a lot more than the coaches.

The whole situation just seems very odd and antiquated. I’m sure it was a very different situation 30-40 years ago, where sports were just a fun extracurricular activity for students to participate in. But it’s totally different now, and I think the NCAA should catch up with the times. What do you think?