Should College Football Players Be Paid?

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There is a lot of money in college football. In 2011, the University of Texas made over $100 million in revenue from various sources around football, including television deals, merchandising, and ticket sales. Many of the top schools have stadiums that seat over 80,000 people, some over 100,000 people, and schools are developing their own […]

There is a lot of money in college football. In 2011, the University of Texas made over $100 million in revenue from various sources around football, including television deals, merchandising, and ticket sales. Many of the top schools have stadiums that seat over 80,000 people, some over 100,000 people, and schools are developing their own television networks and online platforms to further increase those revenue streams. That isn’t even considering the power (and money) of boosters.
All that money funnels into the programs. Yet none of it (in theory at least) goes to the players performing for the crowds.

And that is wrong.

College football has to be the only business in the world that makes millions of dollars and yet doesn’t pay their employees a dime. Calling it slave labor is probably a step too far, especially given the connotations that come with such a statement, but it seems ridiculous in 2016 that the NCAA and its member institutions can still work within this business model.
Football careers are incredibly short by any athletic standard. Players are often used up through the physical demands the sport puts on their bodies by their mid-20s after years of high school and college ball. This is only getting more obvious as players get bigger and stronger in the youth football ranks, with many middle schools now developing strength and conditioning programs to help feed their high schools players at the peak of their physical condition.

With this wear and attrition of the body, isn’t it just that the players that have made it to the college level get paid for their services to the school?
Often these players have been shipped in from all over the country purely because of their football talent. Sure, they get scholarships to cover tuition, books, and some living expenses, but it is not like they can go out and get a job most of the time to supplement their income. Being a football player at a top SEC or Big Ten school is a job in and of itself. With all the time spent in practices and meetings, let alone time that must be devoted to studying game film and playbooks, it is a wonder that the student athletes can even attend class, let alone make money through work.

That is why corruption is so rife in college football. There are many players out there who come from less than ideal backgrounds and any offer of under-the-table payment for playing will be considered. These players often have families to think about, and their athletic talent is the only thing that has the chance to bring them out of a cycle of poverty. If you make paying players legal, then the corruption and constant scandal that the NCAA seems to find itself in goes away.

During the 2016 season, this question has raised itself in a unique way. Star running backs Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffery of Stanford have both elected to sit out of their school’s bowl games, because they have declared for the NFL Draft and don’t want to get injured in what they see as a meaningless game. If they were contracted professionals, this would not be an option, and the fans who bought (expensive) tickets to these bowls would get to see their stars play. As it is now, they will be missing out because there is no incentive for the players to take part.

The sport has simply grown past its amateur roots, and it is time for the players to be paid. Sure, it will be a transition, but many sports have made the adjustment before and everyone is better off for it.

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