It’s Time to Pay College Athletes

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from TIME Magazine,

Should Johnny Football Manziel be making $225,047 a year for playing College Football? That’s what he worth, at least. College sports are mass entertainment. It’s time to fully reward players for their work.

The historic justification for not paying players is that they are amateur student-athletes and the value of their scholarships–often worth in excess of $100,000 over four years–is payment enough. But a growing number of economists and sports experts are beginning to argue for giving athletes a fair share of the take. The numbers are too large to ignore. “The rising dollar value of the exploitation of athletes,” says Roger Noll, a noted sports economist from Stanford University, “is obscene, is out of control.”

In fairness, many college athletes are compensated–with an athletic scholarship. This attractive carrot drives today’s intense competition in youth and high school sports. With tuition costs escalating, these scholarships are a serious meal ticket and for many families are the only way their children can afford to go to a four-year school.

During football season, former Georgia tailback Richard Samuel, who earned an undergraduate degree in sports management in 2011, said he was an “athlete-student,” not a “student-athlete,” as the NCAA wants people to believe. “In the fall, we would spend way more time on sports than academics,” says Samuel.

While many players scrimp, their head coaches don’t. Average salaries for major college football coaches have jumped more than 70% since 2006, to $1.64 million, according to USA Today. For major-conference men’s hoops coaches who made the 2012 March Madness tournament, pay is up 20%, to $2.25 million, over that of coaches who made the 2010 tournament, according to the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics. “It’s nuts,” says Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University system, who was chancellor at Louisiana State University from 2008 to 2012. LSU hired Les Miles to coach its football team in 2005; Miles now earns $4.3 million annually. “It’s time for people to step up and say, We think this is the max that a football coach ought to get, and we ought to stick to it,” says Martin.

A court case may also shake up college sports. Four years ago, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA, video-game maker EA Sports and a licensing company after realizing that his likeness was being used in a video game, while he saw none of the royalties, years after he graduated from college.

“I think in this day and age, as opposed to yesteryear, the concept of what they consider amateur basketball is gone forever,” says Oscar Robertson.

Paying players has risks. Richer schools could buy up talent and disrupt competitive balance. Alumni and fans could be turned off by an even more professionalized game. Paying players could make even more of a mockery of education.

Athletes are starting to speak up too. Chris Brunette, an offensive lineman from the University of Georgia, is pursuing an MBA during his final year of athletic eligibility. “I don’t want to seem like a troublemaker or greedy,” he says. “We’re marketing tools for the programs but can’t see the proceeds. In this country, it just seems backwards.”

The U.S. has enjoyed a long, deep love affair with college sports. It’s about time we finally paid for it.

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