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Why College Athletes Should Be Paid and Allowing Student-athletes to Benefit

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 In 1995, the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team won the national championship. The team was led by Toby Bailey, who had graduated from Loyola a mere ten months prior, and by Ed O’Bannon, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. Today, O’Bannon sells cars in Las Vegas, and the only basketball action he receives is through his games being replayed on television and through the courtroom. Lawyer Rachael Marcus said that O’Bannon spearheaded a class-action lawsuit in 2009 against the NCAA and EA Sports, a video game manufacturer who made NCAA basketball and football games, for using the names and likenesses of college athletes without compensating them . All college athletes must sign form 08-3a, an NCAA document that concedes that the athletes are amateurs before they can play any NCAA sport. Marcus contended that “[t]he plaintiffs argue that by signing form 08-3a . . . the association conspired to deny them the fees from their names”. There are hundreds–if not thousands–of college athletes just like O’Bannon, who star in college, but who do not go on to earn millions of dollars and wind up without the riches that they could have gotten if they were allowed fair compensation for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. Therefore, recent rule changes made by the NCAA to allow student-athletes to profit from their names and likenesses are excellent because they help students and because they help universities themselves, despite the idea of preserving the amateurism that makes college sports so unique and so great. So why college athletes should be paid ?

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Allowing student-athletes to benefit from their names and likenesses helps them because it gives them the part of the money that universities currently make at the athletes’ expense and because the quality of college athletes’ lives and educations is not as great as that of an average student. Universities make billions of dollars yearly, money that went to bettering these universities and enticing their boosters to donate even more to the university, but none of it goes to the athletes. Cork Gaines, a writer for Business Insider, says, “The 231 NCAA Division I schools with data available generated a total of $9.15 billion in revenue [from college athletics] during the 2015 fiscal year”. College athletics is a multi-billion dollar industry, in which the athletes get their images licensed to make the university money without the players getting any. While many people believe that players may be getting pampered with brand new locker rooms, huge meals, and many other luxuries, the truth is often hidden behind the facade of materialistic goods. As former University of Connecticut star point guard Shabazz Napier said, “There are hungry nights that I go to bed starving”. That a player like Napier, who led UConn to a national championship in 2014, can go hungry while earning the university millions of dollars, is outrageous. Unfortunately, some athletes suffer devastating injuries that are even worse than going hungry. Injuries are simply part of the game, but sometimes, one injury can be even more devastating to a career than it appears. Ben Strauss, a writer for The New York Times, reported that in 2009, University of Oklahoma forward Kyle Hardrick tore his meniscus in one of the earlier practices of his freshman year. Oklahoma did not agree with the gravity of Hardrick’s findings that he would need surgery and did not allow Hardrick to undergo surgery. Regardless, Hardrick got the operation with his family’s money, and due to the lack of assurance that Hardrick would be able to get back up to his top-level play, the University of Oklahoma revoked his scholarship. While what happened to Hardrick is terrible, he is not the only player to have to go through the ordeal of paying for medical costs out-of-pocket and then losing the scholarship, as evidenced by schools’ changes to its policies on revoking scholarships. Strauss found that many universities, as well as the NCAA, have come to see that the practice of revoking scholarships is shameful, and in 2014 Northwestern University deemed that its players are employees and have a right to worker’s compensation. Unfortunately, according to Towson University professor Howard Nixon said that, when Northwestern made the decision to call their athletes employees, the NCAA met the school with pushback, saying that the players are student-athletes and, therefore, amateurs who do not need to be compensated. Then in 2019, when California passed the “Fair Pay to Play Act”, the NCAA threatened to impose a postseason ban on every California school that allowed its athletes to be compensated. Also, college athletes currently do not receive the same quality of education and opportunities that non-athlete students do, even though they are enrolled in the university for which they compete. Many people who oppose the idea of student-athletes being able to profit their names employ the argument that these athletes are already being paid with a free education. However, that education is hardly worth it for basketball and football players. Ross’s article cites an example of when the education that the revenue-generating athletes receive is sub-par: At the University of North Carolina in 2014, an investigation yielded that the majority of the school’s men’s football and men’s basketball teams, the players on “revenue-generating” teams, were part of a “shadow curriculum” (par. 10). The athletes’ course schedules consisted of a Swahili language course, where some players who were interviewed just one year after taking the class were unable to say even one word in Swahili. Many athletes are forced into classes where they got a passing grade for just being enrolled in that class, which shortchanges these athletes of their rightful education. Ross also found that of all the athletes who competed in Division I football and men’s basketball, only about one percent of the players went on to the next level of their respective sport. That means that ninety-nine percent of all the athletes graduate with an essentially meaningless degree because they did not learn anything, as evidenced by the athletes who were enrolled in that Swahili class being unable to say one word in Swahili. Boston Globe journalist Christopher Gasper said that athletes like former Duke Basketball star Zion Williamson are “not student-athletes. [Williamson] is an employee of Coach Krzyzewski Incorporated, plain and simple. He is not a college kid who can just schedule classes whenever he likes and join any club that his heart desires, but rather, his entire college existence is built around playing basketball”. Gasper illustrates a huge problem in college sports by comparing college coaches to the CEOs of companies and Star players like Zion Williamson as employees who do not go to college to learn and to enjoy themselves, but they go to college for one year, play basketball, and then go to the professional ranks.

In addition to helping the players, allowing college athletes to profit from their names and likenesses would help the universities make even more money and would help alleviate the immense pressure directed onto coaches to follow the NCAA’s very strict policies. The vast majority of universities already generate revenue from their athletic programs, but they would be able to make even more by allowing athletes to form partnerships and sponsorship deals. According to Ross, the average amount of money spent on a university student in America is $14,979, while the average amount of money spent by a Division I school on an athlete is approximately $156,647 . Allowing athletes to make partnerships with brands would give these universities less of a need to spend lots of money on aspects of athletic improvement that brands already provide. With athletes partnering with a given brand, the schools will not have to pay for the basic human needs that everyone requires; rather, many athletes involved in football and basketball would be able to provide food and clothes for themselves, which is what most other students must do. In addition, schools who have recruited big-name recruits will be more lucrative to other brands that could be willing to partner with the school. As evidenced by Gasper, Duke extended their contract with clothing supplier Nike right after they signed Williamson, who was the number one ranked player in his class. Nike not only supplied gear for Duke’s basketball team but they also supplied gear for sports that do not generate much, if any, revenue for the school . Furthermore, Towson University professor Howard Nixon says that, “Academic misconduct makes a mockery of the idea of the student-athlete”. Lately, many universities have been facing backlash for giving their athletes easier classes that normal students do not get to take. Brands can use the notion of sponsorships with a player to entice that player to stay at the school longer or give incentives to athletes who do well in challenging courses. The NCAA currently has very strict rules on coaches’ recruiting abilities. When coaches even nudge their foot a little over the line, schools face enormous bans that result in revenue loss. Journalist Erik Brady reported that in 2018, former University of Arizona basketball player accepted $100,000 from Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller. In addition, the University of Louisville men’s basketball program even provided escort services to possible recruits when they went on their official visits. This sort of cheating runs rampant throughout college basketball, but allowing athletes to earn money through endorsements would decrease the players’ desire to partake in illegal benefits. Brady also says that the University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, who has been fined numerous times by the NCAA for paying recruits, suggests that the best players should be allowed to unionize and receive loans from a labor union. All of this would allow more advancements in communication between players and the NCAA to best represent everyone involved in college sports.

Many doubters of paying college athletes utilize the argument that allowing college athletes to form partnerships will lead to a top-down economics model and allow an even greater avenue for players to be taken advantage of. The big-name schools, such as the University of Alabama and Duke, already get top-level talent, but Ross says, “An open market system would sustain premium teams that have the ability to compete for premium players on the basis of how much they could pay them”. The schools with the biggest names already attract the best athletes, so there would not be that much of a change if athletes get paid. Also, even if athletes can profit from their image, the schools will not lose money. Wall Street Journal writer Jason Gay said, “The California bill was even amended to alleviate concerns about branding conflicts between athletes and colleges”. This clause ensures that there is no conflict of interest for an athlete who wants to partner with a brand that does not represent the university. Doubters also say that these players are “student-athletes.” However, the term “student-athlete” is not equivalent to “amateur,” because, according to University Wire writer Travis Jaudon, “The term ‘student-athlete’ is a myth, an invention of the NCAA…. Created in the 1950’s, the term was used to prevent the widow of a deceased college football player from collecting workers compensation”. That one of the biggest arguments defending athletes’ lack of pay is rooted in revoking a widow’s right to worker’s compensation is ethically wrong. Although there are valid arguments against allowing college athletes compensation, granting compensation

Most of these athletes will never surpass the level of play that they compete in at the college level, so they play purely for the love of the game. Ross says that college sports “Represent a form of social leveling and an avenue for social justice” (par. 36). However, allowing athletes to be paid would not end that. Lebron James, who earns millions of dollars every year has stood up for societal issues, such as the 2014 Ferguson shootings, where James wore a shirt that showed his stance. As a matter of fact, athletes would be able to use the platform of possible sponsorships to make the issues that they care about even more known. The atmosphere that makes college sports so unique and so exciting is based largely on the fact that the players are there because they genuinely enjoy playing the game, so they bring in more passion than can be if the athletes are paid.

The NCAA, which has for so long been seen as the epitome of amateur success, has become corrupted by money: money that goes to the coaches, to the university, and to the NCAA itself. However, none of this money has gone into the pockets of the people who are the biggest cause for this success: the athletes. The fact that players, even on championship-winning teams, can go to bed hungry is outrageous. That there is little to no assurance that the players can keep their scholarships if they get injured is outrageous. In addition, some athletes also are being denied their due in terms of the education they receive. The argument of athletes getting a free education no longer holds true, as the quality of education that they do receive is abysmal and laughable. As the lead attorney in Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit, Michael Hausfeld says, “shortchanges the athletes in terms of the quality and the type of education they deliver”. Universities who prosper from their athletes would also get a financial boost because of name recognition and there would be less of a need to bend the rules when recruiting. If schools can associate themselves with a brand, there would be yet another layer of legal enticement that schools could deploy when recruiting. California’s bill has made it even easier to switch to the new plan, by removing many possible conflicts of interest. The stage is set for changes to take place, and in order for the proposed plans to work, everyone must get on board or else there will be a catastrophic failure at the hands of the NCAA. So even though the lack of a financial incentive for players is part of what makes college sports so fantastic, college athletes should be able to profit off of the use of their names and likenesses.     

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