Paying College Athletes: A Poor Idea


Jan 28, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; (From left to right) CAPA president Ramogi Huma, Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter, United Steelworkers (USW) national political director Tim Waters, and United Steelworkers (USW) president Leo W. Gerard during a press conference for CAPA College Athletes Players Association at Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Washington Huskies football team eventually unionize and get paid for their services? Will college athletes essentially get “hired” rather than recruited?

Perish the thought.

Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings believes that players should get paid. He was recently quoted as saying:

"Nobody wants to live in the dorms for four years. You see the guys who are older, and they have responsibilities. I feel like, as much money as universities make, some of that should come down to the players, as well."

So we need to compensate athletes because dorm life is hard? Because they have “responsibilities?” Is this the so-called “plight” of college athletes?

First world problems can be tough, can’t they?

There are so many flaws in the arguments for paying college athletes, it is hard to know where to start. Peterson also referenced himself and Johnny Manziel, suggesting that their respective schools made a lot of money off of their talents.

Welcome to real life, Mr. Peterson. Do you think every hard-working salesperson that brings millions in revenue into their respective corporation is going to get a “fair” share of that money?


When professional athletes that make millions of dollars talk about financial struggles, it is really hard to take them seriously. Yes, a professional football player might have some long-term medical issues that could be very expensive. So do millions of people who engage in manual labor for a living and have to push their aging bodies on a daily basis.

Again, welcome to real life.

Whenever this argument for paying players is made, the only athletes that are typically referenced are the stars that may end up making millions anyway. Are you going to pay a hefty stipend to the third-string athlete that is good enough to make the team but not good enough to play very often? Are you going to compensate both men and women? Are you going to compensate athletes even if their program loses money for the university?

Yes, there are many athletic programs across the country that do not make money, including football. If a school does make revenue, that revenue goes towards running the school and potentially keeping tuition down for the thousands of students who attend each year.

There is also the reality that many of these athletes are getting paid. Do you know how much a scholarship to a major university is worth, both in the short term and in long-term earning potential? People will suggest that athletes are not really students, but that is the fault of the institution, not the lack of pay. If you want the athletes to be students, focus less time on the sport.

As a friend of mine has suggested, these are not “student-athletes.” They are “enrolled-athletes.”

One other glaring issue is the dollar amounts. No matter what you pay certain people, there will still be opportunities for widespread corruption. Let’s say you gave athletes an extra $3000 a year on top of their scholarship to cover his or her “living” expenses. For the athlete that is willing to “tolerate” college housing, “survive” eating in the cafeteria and can actually budget money, that amount may be plenty.

For the high-profile college athlete that wants a better living situation, a nice car, toys, “bling” and entertainment on the weekends, $3000 isn’t going to scratch the surface. Besides, do you think institutions across the country would actually agree on a stipend amount in order to create a “level” playing field? Laughable.

Calculating the exact financial impact of an athlete is simply impossible. Their presence can obviously lead to more revenue in the short term, but how do you evaluate their impact on the overall brand of the institution? Do the “one-and-done” athletes that John Calipari is famous for recruiting at the University of Kentucky really move the needle in terms of long-term exposure for the institution?

The football players at Northwestern University believe that by unionizing they will solve all of their problems. What they don’t realize is that they have created a legal mess that could literally drag on for years. Schools are not just going to hand over revenue on top of what they already spend on athletic program and facilities. Ultimately, this could actually lead to some students getting less than what they get now.

Wouldn’t that be ironic?

Compensating athletes may solve a few issues for a select group of athletes, but it is not hard to see that it will create other problems. Most of the arguments that are made for paying college athletes are vague, simplistic and unfortunately naive.

If athletes don’t have time to work and make money, then practice less. If sports cause too many injuries, then don’t play. Just be a student like the millions of other people who have to struggle to afford school.

Paying college athletes…a nice thought, but in many cases the arguments are not particularly well thought out.

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