Should College Athletes Get Paid?

Written by Efraim Andrew Wakschlag on . Posted in Sports

Considering March Madness is in full swing, I knew I had to write something about college basketball. Instead of recapping games, I want to write about a subject which resurfaces every couple of years and that is whether or not college athletes should be compensated. While this issue certainly isn’t new, it gained traction when college athletes began appearing on video games a year or two ago. At the time, students from several schools threatened to unionize and demanded they be paid royalties from these types of programs which benefited from using their profiles. In 2016, college athletics generated nearly $1 trillion in revenue for the National Collegiate Athletic Association and affiliated parties, yet the stars running the show did not receive a penny. Does this make any sense?


Let’s assume that this question really just pertains to students that participate in sports which generate a significant amount of revenue for their schools such as Division 1 football and basketball. With all due respect to collegiate lacrosse, fencing, and table tennis (which I played for three years), there is little to no revenue generated in these sports when compared to the two major collegiate sports of basketball and football. In a capitalist society, the basketball and football players should rightfully share in the profits their programs generate.

Another reason to pay college athletes is to encourage them to complete their degree, which would make them a more valuable asset to society. Most players cite financial reasons as to why they declare for the draft so compensating athletes should keep them in school longer, benefitting the 90 percent that don’t end up making the big bucks. The players would develop their skills, get a better education, and even make some money along the way.

Right now, there is so much pressure for athletes to make it to the big leagues that many players declare for the draft when they’re not ready physically, mentally, or emotionally. Then they either go undrafted or fall out of the league within a year or two and end up trying to find a job at the age of 23 with one or two years of college under their belts. I know this is the case because I’ve worked with a number of players in this very situation.

Another consideration is that student athletes are sacrificing their bodies for our entertainment. Why should a star athlete be forced to risk his greatest asset in college where he’s not getting paid when instead he could go straight to the pros and make millions? Is it only because the National Basketball Association and National Football League mandate he do so (to be eligible to play in the NBA a player must be at least one year removed from high school, while to play in the NFL a player must be at least three years removed)? I think if there was no minimum requirement to be eligible to play professionally and we paid student athletes to encourage them to stay in school then our students would be better off on many levels.

Furthermore, Division 1 athletes are required to put in far more work than their fellow students. For example, in 2016, a typical Division 1 college football player devoted 43.3 hours per week to his sport, that’s 3.3 more hours than the typical American work week!

Coming from the other direction, however: The student athlete is getting a top-tier free education, which, depending on how many years he attends the university, can equate to around $100,000. Additionally, they are gaining valuable experience and recognition which will only help if they move on to play professionally. But do these benefits equate to the thousands, and in many cases millions, of dollars in profits the school makes because of collegiate sports? I don’t think so.

The debate really boils down to, what is the purpose of college for these athletes? The answer to this question depends on what sport the athlete is competing in, how good he is, and how lucrative the team is. A lacrosse player takes his college education more seriously because he will need it to support himself one day since professional lacrosse is not a full-time job. On the other hand, a basketball or football player may just view college as a means to an end. They’re really just going to college to help their chances of making the big leagues.

CBS/Turner Sports bought the rights to broadcast March Madness games for $10.8 billion between 2011 and 2024. Where is all that money going? If none of that money is going to student athletes then something should be done to change this. The students are more entitled to that money than anyone else.

Efraim Andrew Wakschlag is originally from Silver Spring and currently lives in Chicago. He attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and graduated from Yeshiva University in 2014. He is a prolific writer on the NBA and authored “10 Squared: An Unconventional Analysis on the NBA” when he was in Yeshiva University.