Should college athletes be paid? Yes, but not by their universities.



This is not the first time and will not be the last time this question is raised: should collegiate athletes be paid for their services? Their names are used to market schools and sports and they are generating millions of dollars for their universities, so shouldn’t they profit in some way? On the other hand, they are receiving scholarships to universities, at times worth around $200,000. An opportunity many young Americans from the middle and lower class dream about.  

Over the years, we’ve heard many arguments for and against paying student athletes, many a times for. But what happens if colleges actually start paying student athletes? How much would they be paid? Will they still receive scholarships or would they have to pay tuition? Could student-athletes transfer for a better pay check? Would the wealthier schools always have the best players?

We don’t have concrete answers for many of these questions. But some have suggested a salary cap to avoid that last question: would the wealthier schools always have the best players? Joe Nocera of The New York Times pitched a salary-cap idea that “would not break the bank,” but rather one that he sees as practical.

“Here’s how it would work:

Every Division I men’s basketball and football team would have a salary cap, just as the pros do — except the amounts would be vastly lower. In basketball, the cap would be $650,000. In football, it would be $3 million. It is ludicrous to argue that the Power 5 programs cannot afford this; the combined $3.65 million is barely half the $7 million that Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh made this season.”

Nocera’s salary-cap pitch would see football and basketball players – the teams that bring in the most revenue for schools – earn a significant amount of money per season. Forget about soccer, lacrosse and track and field, Nocera’s idea leaves out a specific group within every university’s athletic program: female athletes. Nocera himself acknowledges this in his piece from January 2016, saying,

“The most obvious problem is whether my scheme violates Title IX by carving out football and men’s basketball players for special treatment. My belief is that athletes in the revenue sports play a different role on campus than other athletes: Many of them have been admitted to the university, after all, because they will generate revenue through their play.”

Would such a salary-cap go against Title IX? Does it encourage a wrong notion that male athletes should be paid more than women as we see in professional sports? And don’t teams such as UConn’s women’s basketball team, who won 111 games in a row, also deserve some sort of payment?

uconn women white house
The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team poses at the White House after winning their fourth straight National Championship. From the UConn Women’s Basketball’s Facebook page.


Another big question surrounding paying college athletes is whether or not they will continue getting tuition, room and board. Will they have to pay their own rent and for three meals a day? If they don’t receive scholarships, then after taxes and tuition, room and board, they won’t be left with much money in their pockets anyway, as John Thelin argues.

There is another solution to the payment problem.

Former Duke center and current ESPN announcer Jay Bilas has argued that “the Olympics began taking amateurism out of its charter in the 1970s, yet the N.C.A.A. holds onto it as a cherished ideal. Money is not the problem in college sports. The problem is that the athlete is restricted from making any.”

At the moment, athletes cannot be paid for signing autographs and they cannot sign contracts for sponsorship deals. As for a regular job, who has time? But lifting this barrier could be the key to letting student athletes earn a pay check while playing college ball. They may even stick around the college scene longer.

According to Forbes, in 2016 NBA star LeBron James earned $54 million from endorsement deals alone. Cam Newton earned $12 million. Some college athletes may have a big enough reputation to sign with Nike off the bat and earn large sums, while others may have a sponsorship with a local car dealership that enables them to buy a new pair of sneakers every now and then.

It’s a win-win situation.

I truly believe colleges and the NCAA have a responsibility to their players to give them a chance to make a living while playing. I also believe that colleges must help student-athletes learn to manage their money.

Over the years we’ve seen countless professional stars lose their money and declare bankruptcy. Some made bad investments, some made overall bad choices. Either way, athletes who are earning a pay check, and will continue to earn a pay check for their skills, should know how to handle their wealth. Colleges already provide tuition and tutors, why not make money management a mandatory course? After that, they’re on their own.


We’ve heard some extremely concerning statements about athletes not having enough money or food to eat at night. UConn’s Shabazz Napier once said there are nights he doesn’t have enough money for food. It is a university’s responsibility to ensure their scholarship athletes are well fed and cared for, and for the most part they do. But it shouldn’t be the university’s responsibility to offer an additional pay check, especially considering most DI schools don’t profit from their athletic programs.

At the end of the day, the NCAA should give athletes the chance to earn some money, even if it means they use their name and talent for a pay check.