Weighing In On Whether College Student Athletes Should Get Paid

September 06, 2013

It probably wasn't Woodward and Bernstein or the filmmakers behind "All The President’s Men" who coined the phrase ‘follow the money.' Neither legendary reporter covered the machine of college athletics, which seems to run thanks to the millions and even billions of dollars fed into it by TV networks and sponsors, but until very recently despite convincing, logical op-eds in national newspapers, the concept of truly sharing those funds with student-athletes seemed unlikely. It seems the winds of change are blowing.

"This antiquated notion that the labor that is generating such tremendous revenue and interest shouldn't be compensated at all clearly seems to be going the way of the buggy," said Warren Zola, assistant dean at Boston College’s School of Management and a contributor to the Sports Law blog.

"It's clear to anyone who is paying attention to college athletics that change is coming. The question is, do the leaders of higher education sit down in a room and discuss meaningful change or do they wait for the court system or legislature to impose upon them a new system?" Zola said.

The National College Athletic Association or NCAA governs college athletics with a set of rules that fill a book about 400 pages long. It is not an overstatement to say the NCAA is always being heavily criticized by some columnist or fan for making decisions that someone does not think are fair.

Recently, the public was baffled by the NCAA suspending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M for only one half of one game when it seemed clear Manziel had blatantly violated a rule by signing autographs for money.

John Infante is a former university compliance officer who runs the Bylaw Blog for athletic scholarships dot net. He said the NCAA’s enforcement wing is not always effective, but that is not because of incompetence.

“In a case like Manziel, they were limited in who they could talk to and the information they would get, which is typically not nearly what the police, FBI or the IRS could get if they were investigating similar activity," Infante said. "When you’re limited to trying to get in touch with people who don’t have to talk to you, the odds that you’ll be able to get a smoking gun, even in a case that seems obvious, go down very quickly.”

The Manziel situation has led to increased wondering, even at the highest levels of college athletics, whether paying athletes, at least football and men’s basketball players, would make sense and keep the public from getting up in arms about what seem like small transactions. Manziel was allegedly paid $7,500 for his autographs. By comparison, the most recent agreement the NCAA signed with multiple TV networks to carry the men’s postseason basketball tournament will bring in $10.8 billion.

But why should college kids get paid? Isn't that what professional sports are for, and don’t these student-athletes receive full scholarships?

Ramogi Huma is president of the National College Players Association, a non-profit advocacy group. Huma said the scholarship is a form of compensation. It is simply not enough for people who are expected to participate in their sport for 40 hours a week while also staying on track to graduate.

The NCAA is unlikely to make changes quickly, especially because it is facing a monumental lawsuit filed by former student-athletes. The suit argues the players should receive money for the use of their likenesses in promotional materials or video games. Infante said the suit’s outcome could be a game-changer, because he is not expecting an out of court settlement.

“And if you look at their background, these are generally people who I don’t think are going to be satisfied with getting money from the NCAA. They want to change rules, etc," Infante said.

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