Should student athletes get paid?


The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)  claims to be a non-profit organization in which their mission is “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” But the real question is, is that really their mission? Every single year, the NCAA generates billions of dollars in revenue, and claims to recycle all of that money back into the organization’s funding. This has been a controversial issue for years now, and this is an issue that will only continue to pick up steam.

Student athletes on average spend 40-50 hours on their sport per week and along with time being spent in the classroom it’s hard to see how student athletes survive. Getting a part time job is out of the question. Unless they are provided with unlimited meals and housing by their university, it’s uncertain how they get by with no source of income.

“I agree it is tough for players to have a part time job and stay up with academics and their sport,” Adrian Bush,UT Men’s Head Soccer Coach, said, “Academics needs to be first, this is where something could be in place to allow athletes to be paid in the summer months and winter break.”

Bush also said that only 30 percent of his athletes are on scholarship. The remaining 70 percent of athletes pay for tuition at full price. On top of paying full price, these athletes receive no money while participating in games representing their universities. UT is recognized as Division-II program, so televised sporting events are very rare. But Division-I colleges and universities appear on television all the time. Millions of dollars are generated through advertisements, television network deals and ticket sales for the public to watch these kids compete.

“The NCAA proclaims themselves as a non-profit organization, but they generate billions of dollars per year,” said Sam Kessler, a pitcher at the University of West Virginia. “It’s nice that we get scholarships, but all of that is from the university. We as players don’t see any of the money being generated.”

But even if you are a Division-II athlete, at UT for example, you are still a member of the NCAA. Bush says that there may be a loophole way that student athletes can earn some sort of income.

“The athletes are the stars of the sports but those same athletes are for most cases getting a paid education,” Bush said. “Perhaps something to consider is paying the student athletes who are not on athletic scholarship.”

Even if a student is on a full-ride athletic scholarship, the student athlete still spends a numerous amount of hours committed to their sport, which barely leaves time for schoolwork to be completed. According to a  2013 study performed by the National College Players Association, 86 percent of student athletes live below the poverty line.

Major powerhouse schools in football and basketball generate the most money in Division-I competition. The Alabama football and Duke basketball programs are the first ones that come to mind for generating millions of dollars per year. These kids attend these universities solely to give themselves the best chances to be drafted. Once athletes are drafted, they rake in millions of dollars. According to Kessler, this perception of college sports as a stepping stone is part of the big problem with the NCAA.

“Guys are so quick to go and get drafted,” Kessler said. “Universities tend to get angry when an athlete leaves school early and declares for the draft, but I don’t blame them because these guys have families to support.”

The University of Kentucky’s head basketball coach John Calipari has started a basketball program trend in which majority of his players leave school after one or two years. It is an NCAA rule that college basketball players must enroll in college for at least one year before being eligible for the NBA draft. This is known as being a ‘one and done player.’ If athletes continue to not receive any sort of compensation, this will continue to be a trend for years to come.

“Only roughly a quarter of our athletes in our program are getting any help,” Rory Whipple, UT Men’s Head Lacrosse Coach, said, “We are not a fully funded program.”

Whipple also went on to say that it isn’t fair for athletes, especially Division-I athletes, to not receive any sort of income.

With another year of the NCAA surpassing over a billion dollars of generated revenue, it is tough to say when action will be taken regarding the status of student athletes’ payment.

“I do feel much has changed with the landscape of college sports and it has turned into a multi billion dollar operation in some of your major sports championship segments,” Bush said. “Events like March Madness and the college football championships or bowls bring in a lot of money to the NCAA.”

Only time will tell if student athletes will one day see some on this money. Until then, these kids will continue to leave their blood, sweat and tears out on the field playing the games that they love.

John Feltman can be reached at

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