Should “Student Athletes” Be Paid?

July 18th, 2011 has a number of pieces on this topic.

Mike Wilbon says “college athletes deserve to be paid.”

I used to argue vehemently against paying college athletes. Tuition, room, board and books were compensation enough. And even if, increasingly, it wasn’t enough and virtually every kid who accepted a scholarship was in the red before Christmas of his freshman year, the notion of pay-for-play was at best a logistical nightmare. Where exactly would the money come from? How could you pay college football players but not baseball players or members of the women’s field hockey team? And how in the world would you pay men in a way that wouldn’t violate Title IX?

So you know what caused me to do a 180 on the issue? That $11 billion deal — OK, it’s $10.8 billion to be exact — between the NCAA and CBS/Turner Sports for March Madness between 2011 and 2024. We’re talking $11 billion for three weekends of television per year. On top of that, there’s a new four-year deal with ESPN that pays the BCS $500 million. So, if those two deals were worth, say, a combined $10 billion instead of $11.3 billion, would the games not be televised? Would the quality of the broadcasts or the coverage or the staging of the events be somehow diminished? What if people in the business of money took $1.3 billion off the top, invested it, sheltered it and made it available to provide a stipend to college athletes, how could anybody stand on principal and argue against paying the people who make the events possible in the first place?

Pat Forde rejects the “myth of exploited, impoverished athletes.”

For those who feel compelled to monetize everything in college athletics, don’t forget to factor in the cost of four years of schooling. At a lot of places, that will run about $200,000. Most students emerge from college saddled with debt that will take years to pay off, but scholarship athletes are exempt from that burden.

What never is factored in anymore is what an athlete can do with four years of free schooling once he is finished — the knowledge and background to earn a living for a lifetime. If they don’t take advantage of that incredible opportunity to earn a degree — made all the more attainable by the extensive academic support systems created to serve them at most schools — shame on them.

Even that reckoning still ignores the nonmonetized benefits of college — maturation, socialization, enculturation, life lessons, friendships made, spouses met, and an allegiance to a place that can last a lifetime. Find a few former college athletes in their 30s or 40s and ask them about their experience. How many say they had a lousy time?

I still agree with Eric Cartman on this one.