The question of whether or not to pay student-athletes has been a source of significant controversy for the last several years. A recent Supreme Court decision has established a degree of finality around the conversation.
In this article, we examine what this decision will mean for college sports by taking a look both at the potential positives, and the negatives.
In the summer of 2021, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that the NCAA could not legally bar college athletes from receiving modest payments. In the wake of this decision, student-athletes were officially allowed to receive payments for the first time in the history of collegiate athletics.
This was a major win for people whose name and likeness were already being used to bring in significant sums of money for universities. But what are the broader societal implications?
Taking a Bite Out Of The College Debt Crisis
Anything that puts money in the pockets of college students at least has the capacity to reduce the enormous student loan bubble. Currently, US college graduates leave their studies behind with thousands of dollars in debt trailing behind them.
By paying student-athletes, at least some graduates have the opportunity to pay for their education while still at university. Naturally, this will only correct a very small slice of a much bigger problem. Still, for the people impacted, it can make a substantial difference.
More Time for School
Student-athletes are busier than the majority of people at university. Between practice and school, working a second job is more than most can reasonably be expected to manage. Paying student-athletes gives them the opportunity to avoid this need, freeing up more time for them to focus both on their school work, and their sport.
Approximately 20% of student-athletes are African American. African Americans have lower rates of college enrollment and higher rates of debt than almost any other group in the United States. By paying student-athletes more money will be put in the pockets of some of the people who need it the most.
Not only could this decision help minorities already in school, but it could also lead to more diversity in colleges by providing people from a wide variety of backgrounds with a clear path towards paying for their education.
A Potential Downside
Of course, it’s worth noting that the recent NCAA ruling was not without controversy. In discussing if student-athletes should be paid, there were strong points made on both sides. Opponents of this decision have expressed concern that:
- Paying Student-Athletes Shifts the Focus Away From Academics: This argument suggests that if students are receiving payment for their time on the field, that will give it natural priority over the time they spend in the classroom. While this may be true for some athletes, a similar argument could be made to critique athletic-based scholarships — an activity that has been going on for many years without widespread concern.
- It Disadvantages Smaller Universities: The bigger the school, the better the potential compensation would be. The same way Division One schools are able to pay their coaches six or even seven-figure salaries, it’s possible that these same schools would be able to offer disproportionately high salaries to student-athletes that smaller universities could not hope to compete with. Regulations to limit the size of student-athlete payments have been suggested, which could reduce this concern.
- Smaller Sports Won’t Have a Chance: The majority of student-athlete payments will inevitably go to sports that generate the most revenue. For most colleges, this is basketball and football. As universities work to make their programs more competitive, smaller sports may see their budgets slashed or erased entirely to make room for higher student-athlete salaries that are generating revenue.
There is no such thing as a perfect plan. Nevertheless, the ruling is in effect and despite any downsides, it may produce, paying college athletes has the potential to change many lives for the better.