We Already Pay College Athletes

I read Time magazine’s recent cover story, “It’s Time to Pay College Athletes,” by Sean Gregory. While I agree with some of the article, much of it really bothers me. Please bear in mind that my perspective is from that of a faculty member at a two-year college, which recently joined the National Junior College Athletic Association, so our student-athlete looks much different from those featured in Gregory’s article, and our college is still getting used to the student-athlete.

The article claims that colleges and universities make so much money from sports, especially football and basketball, that those athletes should receive some of the wealth. The piece does mention scholarships, but it also says that scholarships don’t cover all of the costs of college; and not all student-athletes are on full scholarships. Fair enough. It also says athletes are “essentially working full-time football jobs while going to school,” with so many hours spent on the field or in the gym. Also fair.

I “like” the Dalai Lama on Facebook because I often receive snippets of wisdom that make me think about my life. Just before I read the Time magazine article, I came across this from the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page: “We all want to live a happy life and have a right to do so, whether through work or spiritual practice. I’m subject to destructive emotions like anger and jealousy the same as you, but we all have potential for good too. However, our existing education system is oriented toward material development; neglecting inner values. Consequently we lack a clear awareness of the inner values that are the basis of a happy life.”

I think the Time article bothered me so much because of its focus on a material thing, money. It constantly throws figures out about how much money colleges bring in and how much a student should be worth. But no mention is ever made of a quality education as “compensation” for athletics. Where the article and I agree is when schools seem to abide by “athlete-student” and not “student-athlete” but, to me, the answer isn’t throwing money at the players. It would be great if someone—one of the players, perhaps—would see the value of an education as more than just a means to a financial end. In those institutions that do strive for academic excellence, as well as athletic excellence, how else (besides money) are players “compensated”? Knowledge? Life experiences? Social awareness? Lifelong friendships? All those other things students tend to get from college?

If we are going to talk about money, here’s a thought: Instead of distributing the wealth directly to players (who are already “compensated” in non-financial ways), why not distribute it more evenly across the whole college or university for those whom the institution employs? I’m sure the adjunct composition teacher could use a few extra bucks or at least a real office. The administrative assistant in the math department might be more effective if she had fairer pay or at least enough staples. Wouldn’t a more even distribution of the money also benefit the student-athlete in the form of willing, able, and maybe even enlightened instruction and support?

Like I said, I’m not against everything the article says. Video games, for example, shouldn’t be able to profit from a player’s likeness without compensating that player. But I am against the idea that, in the name of some imagined fairness, a quality education that, in many cases, is on the house isn’t enough “pay” for college athletes.

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user RonAlmog.]

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