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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

March 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: Colleges should not pay student athletes to play

The first time I learned of the debate over paying college athletes, I was utterly shocked. The idea that colleges and universities would pay a salary to student athletes seemed so absurd I was surprised it was even a disputable issue. Little did I know, it has been drifting around sport authorities and colleges for the past decade.

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Brittany Lange

People support paying student athletes because these players bring in significant revenue — more than $2.5 million at Ithaca College alone — and many argue they deserve a share. While this reasoning may seem logical, there are too many contradictory factors.

If a Division I college gives an athletic scholarship to its starting quarterback, that player now has a full ride to a school where non-athletes pay tens of thousands of dollars per year in tuition. Should he also receive a salary in addition to his scholarship? I’d say free, or even reduced, tuition from partial scholarships is compensation enough. Not to mention all the fringe benefits of being a student athlete: priority scheduling, excused absences and meal plans — just to name a few.

The question of where money for an athlete’s salary would come from remains. If student athletes received a piece of the profit pie, some of the sports revenue that traditionally benefits athletic departments would go to student-athlete paychecks. This would result in pay cuts elsewhere. So how would schools make up the difference?

According to an opinion student survey on paid athletes in Sport Digest, 54 percent of respondents support the idea. Fifty-six percent believe “additional funding should come from the athletic department” of each university if the NCAA were to pay athletes. But were this to happen, athletic departments would suffer financially after paying their own athletes.

Not to mention, athletic departments would see increased Title IX lawsuits. The policy supports equality for athletes at the college level. It does not apply to pro athletes because the reality is men and women don’t have equal financial opportunities in sports. If colleges paid student athletes, it would contradict the entire purpose of Title IX.

By paying student athletes, it would blur the lines between amateur and professional athletes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association bylaws require college athletic participants to be amateurs in order to compete at the collegiate level. No professional athlete is eligible to play in the NCAA. By definition, professional athletes are hired to play their sport and are rightly compensated for it. A student athlete’s job, however, is to be a student. During their time at school, students should make academia a top priority.

NCAA President Mark Emmert attended a conference in March with more than 50 university presidents in attendance. “Pay-for-play” was a topic on the agenda.

“There [is] an absolute, complete consensus that we would never move to pay for play,” he said. “No one, including me, believes that paying student athletes is even remotely appropriate in the collegiate model.”

Emmert is right. Student athletes should remain amateurs and pro athletes should remain pros. They’re already well-compensated through scholarships and other benefits while athletic departments lack the funds to pay for these hypothetical salaries. If Title IX wasn’t enough to rule out pay-for-play, Emmert laid down the law. College athletes will not be paid.

Brittany Lange is a junior journalism major. Email her at blange1@ithaca.edu