Shouts From The Stands: Why The NCAA Shouldn’t Pay Athletes

by SwimSwam 52

April 23rd, 2015 College, National, News, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Davis Malone:

The NCAA Should Not Pay Athletes 

The NCAA should not consider paying collegiate athletes for their participation in their respective schools athletic programs. The education and services collegiate athletes receive for their participation is enough compensation and will be valuable after they’re done competing athletically. If athletes want to get paid then they might have to say goodbye to their fellow athlete friends who will have their programs cut to help pay for other athletes’ salaries. The bottom line is athletes have the choice to participate in collegiate athletics or not so if they want to get paid then they shouldn’t compete collegiately.


Over the past couple of years sports fans and school administrators have been going back and forth on whether student athletes should get paid for their participation or not. In 2011, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA for their use of athletes’ images for commercial purposes (Fox). The lawsuit only covered football and basketball players but since then the idea that all athletes should get paid has come into play.

Those who argue for paying student-athletes believe schools use their athlete’s images and performance to make money and the athletes should be compensated. Additionally, some believe athletes should be paid for all the hours they put into their respective sports and the classroom. Much has also been said about how athletes are improving schools academically as well due to more admissions and smarter applicants thus athletes should be compensated for their contribution to the school.

While it may seem the argument stacks up nicely for those who believe athletes should be paid, there are still those out there who believe they should not. The NCAA is a not-for-profit organization that offers educational services to their participants and money to the schools that have athletic programs. Although it may not seem right that athletes don’t get paid for all their hard work, many argue that college is a stepping-stone towards a professional athletic career and that athletes can wait a few years to get paid millions by professional franchises.

The courts ended up ruling in Ed O’Bannon’s favor and demanded that schools be allowed to offer each athlete five thousand dollars per year of eligibility into a trust for when they are done competing. The NCAA has since appealed the decision and the debate has continued (Fox). Whether or not a final decision will be made soon is unknown but eventually a will be made for this hot topic.

The Education Is Enough

Education in America is especially important today because it is close to impossible to try to land a job without a college degree. Degrees are more valuable depending on where one goes to school but nonetheless a college degree is valuable no matter where it comes from. Americans drive themselves into up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt just to go to school or to send a loved one to school. Most former high school athletes would kill to be an athlete receiving a free education for playing a sport they love.

Most collegiate athletes receive some type of money-based athletic scholarship that goes towards paying for an athlete’s education. In addition to the scholarship, athletes receive other perks that the average college student does not. According to the University of Minnesota star senior swimmer CJ Smith, athletes receive “resources such as free tutoring, counseling (psychology and academic), snacks, and more that give them the opportunity to succeed.” (Smith). While that may not seem as nice as spending money, one must consider how much these resources help athletes graduate with a degree and how important those degrees earned are.

The number of college graduates has been rising decade-to-decade as more people have the opportunity to go to college and realize how important a college education is. According to Emily Hanford of American Public Media, 32% of 25-34 year olds have four-year college degrees, which is up from 24% in the 1980’s. To put it in perspective of how valuable those degrees are for the 32% of 25-34 year olds with degree, 60% of all jobs in the United States economy require higher education (Hanford). The number of jobs requiring higher education is only going to get larger and larger as more Americans graduate with degrees.

While some might say that athletes use collegiate athletics as a stepping-stone to get to the professionals, the numbers show that college athletes should start making backup plans if their dreams of being a pro athlete fail. A study done by students at Freedom High School shows how unlikely it is that an amateur athlete makes it to their sports respective professional league:

Student Athletes Men’s Basketball Women’s Basketball Football Baseball Men’s Ice Hockey Men’s Soccer
% High School to College



3.15% 5.8% 5.6% 12.9% 5.7%
% College to Pro 1.3% 1.0% 2.0% 10.5% 4.1% 1.9%
% High School to Pro .03% .02% .09% .5% .4% .08%

(“From High School to Pro – How Many Will Go?” Freedom)

The highest percentages of collegiate athletes who make it professional are baseball players but that does not necessarily mean that they made it to the MLB (Major League Baseball). The minor leagues of the MLB count as going professional, which is why collegiate baseball players have about a 10% chance of making it “professional”. If the study had zoned in on the MLB being considered professional then that percentage would be smaller.

The chances of making a professional sports team is so unlikely that athletes should appreciate and take advantage of the free education and services they are offered. With 60% of US jobs needing a college degree it speaks loudly that academic institutions are giving away free education for athletic participation. A college degree goes beyond the four years of school a student experiences at a university, which makes it hard to put a monetary value on the education offered to athletes.

Additionally, a lot of the money made through athletics is used to pay for non-revenue sports, the athletic director, coaches, school officials, new buildings & facilities, educational programs, etc. All of which benefit the athlete that is helping the school make money. Most colleges aren’t even earning revenues from their larger sports like football and basketball. Sports fans assume that all schools are making money off their sports because college sports are all over TV. There are plenty of Division II and Division III colleges not making any money off of their sports. It wouldn’t be fair to only pay Division I athletes because then it creates a divide between Division I and the other two divisions. CJ Smith did offer up a potential solution for the athletes who perform well for their schools and it would incorporate revenue earning and non-revenue sports. He said, “[athletes] should be allowed to receive outside compensation, such as money for a top-3 finish in a swimming competition” (Smith). This would fix the issue of who should and shouldn’t get paid because only the top athletes would get paid and not all the bench players hoping to score big bucks.

CJ’s point also brings up the issue of the NCAA and their rules on eligibility. In the past year Texas freshman swimmer and NCAA champion Joseph Schooling was cleared to compete for Texas after receiving more than $300,000 in prize money for competing for Singapore the summer before. Back in 2012, former Cal Berkeley star and American record holder Missy Franklin was threatened by the NCAA to lose her eligibility after Justin Bieber sent her a free box of Bieber fan gear. Pretty confusing right? To expand on the confusing, in 2014 University of Oklahoma football players were forced to donate $3.83 for taking too much pasta at a graduation dinner (Fenno). I will admit that if the NCAA is not going to pay their athletes they need to rewrite their rules on what would make an athlete eligible or not. If athletes are to be treated like all other students on campus then they should be able to receive free food and gifts from friends and family but not get paid thousands of dollars for competing for their school or country.

Some will argue that the athletic director (AD), coaches, and school officials should not get paid the amount they do but if an athletic program wants the best coach or best AD then they have to pay top dollars. Furthermore, the athletes who go to Alabama to play for Nick Saban or go to North Carolina to play for Roy Williams are expecting the best coaching they have ever received so it makes sense schools pay their coaches as much as they do. If they did not then the coaches would leave and go to another school willing to pay or to the NBA or NFL.

While on the surface it may seem like athletes are not compensated enough for their participation, once their compensation is broken down it is clear that athletes are getting the most of their college experience. They receive a free education, tutors that will help them over come the struggles of balancing school and sports, and a decent amount of the money they help the school make goes back into their athletic and academic experience.

More Money, More Problems 

College students are notorious for having spending problems, as do professional athletes so the chances a college athlete uses any money given to them wisely is highly unlikely. In 2009, Sports Illustrated published an article about professional athletes and their spending problems. Their findings are astonishing and ultimately led to ESPN creating a documentary a few years later for their 30 for 30 documentary series titled “Broke”. Sports Illustrated concluded that within two years of retirement 78% of former NFL players are broke or under financial distress. As for the NBA, within five years of retirement their former players were broke 60% of the time (Torre). Now imagine how many college athletes would go broke if they were given the amount of money people are suggesting they make.

In ESPN’s Broke documentary former NFL and NBA players who went broke at any point in their life or were still broke (probably why they did the interview) gave insight to why they went broke. Their biggest reasons were they never had that kind of money so they thought it was endless, nagging investors tricking them into faulty investments, sketchy financial advisors taking their money, and having to take care of their friends and family financially. Those are all things that college athletes let alone college students should not be worried about while trying to earn a degree. In addition, the investors and money managers would get in the way of them living a college life and doing well in school.

Although the offer made by O’Bannon to give athletes a $5,000 trust per year of eligibility sounds like a great idea it isn’t the best when analyzing athletes spending problems. A trust would work as long as the athletes are educated on how to spend their money. The research by SI shows that athletes are bad with money in general; no matter what age they are so a trust wouldn’t necessarily be the best option. I do agree that a trust would work for Olympic sport athletes that don’t receive lucrative contracts from sponsors so they can continue training. But the amount of Olympic sport athletes who continue to pursue the dream is much smaller than that of the pool of football, basketball, and baseball players and because the pool is so much smaller it doesn’t justify why all college athletes deserve a trust.

There has been requests to teach college athletes how to save their money, which is very necessary with but they should learn then test what they learn once they are out of school. Students in finance classes, specifically investment classes, aren’t given tens of thousands of dollars to practice their investment skills so why should athletes be given thousands of dollars to blow and put themselves in financial trouble at such a young age.

Athletics are a Choice, Not a Job

When an athlete signs the line on National Letter of Intent (NLI) to play a sport at a NCAA sponsored college they know what they are signing up for. If they have a problem with it they don’t have to sign a NLI. It is very clear to an athlete that they previously should not have and should not going forward receive any type of gift or money for their athletic performance if they want to be eligible to compete in NCAA events. If the athletes believe they should receive a type of gift or amount of money for their play then they should go sign up to participate in an amateur league.

Professional leagues like the MLB, NBA (National Basketball League), NHL (National Hockey League), and NFL (National Football League) have some type of age restriction put in place for those athletes trying to join their leagues. The restrictions do not mention anything about having to attend college to play. It has become the norm though that athletes attend college first before going pro. This norm originated when attending college was only for those that could afford it so getting a free ride to college meant the world to a lot of athletes. Nowadays it seems like revenue sport athletes (athletes competing in revenue earning sports) see college as an obstacle to their path to the professional leagues. If athletes realized how slim their chances of going pro are then maybe they would cherish the chance of being able to go to college for four years to play a sport.

If an athlete has no interest in attending college for its educational purpose then they shouldn’t. Most of the players in the NHL do not receive any type of college education because there are leagues set up for players who just want to play hockey the rest of their lives. The MLB also contains a lot of non-college educated players who wanted to focus more on baseball the rest of their lives than going to get a college degree. Recently, a few high school basketball stars have graduated high school then gone overseas to play as an alternative to going to college before going to the NBA. So far it has worked out well for players like Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jeremy Tyler (who actually left his junior year of high school). Jennings and Mudiay claim that they did not want to go to college for one year then bail when their ultimate goal is to take care of their families. Playing overseas for money does exactly that for them. The NFL should follow their counterparts and make an option for amateurs who have no desire to go to college.

Although paying college athletes would strengthen the talent pool for college athletics, there’s no reason to have them come play, get paid, and not take advantage of the academics. There is someone out there who got denied from the school the player plays for and would’ve paid to go to school and would’ve loved the chance to get educated. With Americas schools systems falling in the rankings we shouldn’t even consider giving a free education to someone who may let it go to waste.

No one is forcing athletes to play collegiate so they should not feel that they deserve the right to be paid for the athletic participation. An athlete should understand what they are signing up for when they sign a NLI and want to receive a college education as part of their compensation. If going pro is their end goal and college education is not important to them they should not sign a NLI and take away a free educational experience from someone else.

Do Not Pay Them

Once broken down the argument for why collegiate athletes should not get paid is pretty clear. While it may seem like individual athletes rake in a lot of money for their schools and receive nothing, the truth is the athletes benefit as much as the school does from the money. They are offered free education, tutors, snacks, counseling, and a chance to extend their athletic career. Even if they were given money it’s plausible they would spend it all and create many distractions for themselves and others around them. Very few high school and collegiate athletes make the professional leagues and those whose ultimate goal is to play professional do not have to play collegiately to get there. In the end paying collegiate athletes could be detrimental to the athletes long-term future and create a large divide between student athletes and regular students.


Fenno, Nathan. “Three Oklahoma Athletes Penalized by University for Eating Pasta.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

Fox, Michelle. “College Athletes Should Be Paid: Former UCLA Star.” CNBC. 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <>.

“From High School to Pro – How Many Will Go?” Freedom High School. Georgia State University. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. < High School to Pro Statistics.pdf>.

Hanford, Emily. “The Value of a College Degree.” American RadioWorks. American Public Media. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <>.

Smith, Clayton. “Should NCAA Athletes Get Paid?” Telephone interview. 25 Mar. 2015.

Torre, Pablo. “How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke.” 23 Mar. 2009. Web. 1 Apr. 2015

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6 years ago

We need to separate college football and basketball from the other collegiate sports. But I assume you are talking about football and basketball because those are the athletes for whom compensation is being discussed.
Let’s focus on your last section: You assertion that “the athletes benefit as much as the school does from the money” is laughable. College football and basketball players are encouraged to take easy classes and light class loads because the coaches and staff members know that these men and women can’t possibly attend class, study and do homework while attending practices, travelling to games, watching game film and the other ancillary things expected of college athletes. Explain how a college basketball player in the NCAA… Read more »

Reply to  Matteo
6 years ago

Cue the “why are you playing the race card” people.

Matteo isn’t playing the race card, and he’s certainly not saying that college athletes are treated like slaves, he’s merely pointing out that Mr. Malone’s arguements that the Univeristy’s provide some great service to the atheletes, and that athletes should “appreciat” what universities do and not ask for fair market value, is very similar to the arguements made by plantation owners that they provided housing and structure to slaves, and that slaves should be “grateful” for all their masters have done instead of asking for freedom to live independently and market comensation for their work.

6 years ago

I agree 100%! Education is priceless. In many countries of the world people would give everything they own for the possibilities that a college education could give them! Even in the US, people take on huge debt so their children will have the chance for a better life. If success in a sport has given an athlete the opportunity to attend a university, they are extremely fortunate. I understand that a LOT of time must be devoted to their athletic pursuits, but how is that different than a student who must work to finance their own education? Hopefully the athlete enjoys their chosen sport; if so, they are already getting “paid” to do what they love, which is a goal… Read more »

Reply to  Danjohnrob
6 years ago

Do you really think that these colleges aren’t already for-profit sports organizations? If you look at the highest paid public employee in each state, for 27 states its a college football coach, and for 13 its a college basketball coach…

Reply to  Danjohnrob
6 years ago

I think a lot of these colleges are already “for-profit sports organizations”. In 40 states the highest paid state emploee is either a college football coach (27 states), or a college basketball coach (13 states).

Reply to  PC
6 years ago

PC, I absolutely think basketball, football, baseball, hockey, etc are overvalued in our society/the world, and people who play or coach those sports are overcompensated, but that’s a different argument. I also have no problem with reforming the NCAA, I just don’t think employing athletes to play their sports is the answer to the problem.

Why don’t the NBA and NFL create a minor league like the MLB has so athletes who aren’t interested in getting a college degree can go work for them? Maybe that would decrease the quality of NCAA basketball, but that’s just fine with me!

Reply to  Danjohnrob
6 years ago

No incentive. They get the benefits of the NCAA system at no cost, they will not create their own farm system at their own cost unless they need to.

Reply to  swammer
6 years ago

Exactly! The NCAA IS providing a benefit to the NBA/NFL AND athletes who hope to go pro! Perhaps they could/should provide even more BENEFITS too. Not that my opinion matters more than that of anybody else who has no authority to make/change rules, but I say: give the athletes educational opportunity for as long as it takes them to finish their degree and guarantee it even if they can’t play due to injury, give them tutoring help if needed, give them medical and dental and PT, pay for their housing and food and give them the best coaching and training and equipment and facilities possible, but don’t give them a PAYCHECK! If they don’t care about education and they want… Read more »

Reply to  Danjohnrob
6 years ago

By the way, I am also 100% in favor of guaranteeing scholarships for athletes and providing full medical coverage for them. I just don’t think they should receive cash payment.

6 years ago

Every varsity athlete gets full scholarships to attend the colleges we go too. We are definitely getting a free* education. /sarcasm

6 years ago

I wish I had the time to write how much I disagree with this. Athletes wont’ likely go pro so they shouldn’t get paid? It will create a divide between DI and DIII? The divide already exists. It will create a divide between athletes and students? Did you even go to college? Athletes are already treated differently than regular students. The Big East made $150 million on Men’s Basketball alone. The SEC Network was able to pay out $20 Million to schools. Athletes sacrifice their bodies for this money, none of which they see.

I seriously can’t even.

Coach Andy
6 years ago

More fakery from the ncaa. Education is priceless… Like the grade enhancements at chapel hill? Here is your degree in advanced stage building. Now go make your millions. How about pay the big money athletes and leave the swim programs alone.

6 years ago

This article does one thing well-it frames the issue. Is it out of touch with reality? Yes. Is it one dimensional? Yes. Unfortunately where it tries to be constructive, it fails. Division 1 and division 2/3 schools are not comparable in terms of athletic revenues and expenditures, thus they should certainly not be categorized together. Division 1 athletic departments are run very much like businesses. Even my head coach at a top 20 swimming program acted as just as much of a manager as a coach and used scholarship money like performance bonuses. Division 2/3 programs are run like nonprofits. My sister currently swims at one and it is much more relaxed and enjoyment focused. Lastly and most importantly, the… Read more »

6 years ago

Part of the problem is that we try to have these discussions without considering the larger, underlying questions, either because we are unable or unwilling to. Two of these points that really need to be discussed first:
1. What is the ultimate goal of education?
2. In what ways are all facets of a college/university supposed to support #1?
3. How, particularly, do college athletics play into these considerations?

Obviously I’m not anti-sports, as I spend a good amount of time on SwimSwam and a few other sports sites, but I am concerned that we’ve begun to reach a place where the tail wags the dog, metaphorically speaking.

Reply to  TheTroubleWithX
6 years ago

*Three of these points. Added one.

Tim Noonan
6 years ago

“the chances a college athlete uses any money given to them wisely is highly unlikely.”
^This is rather poorly argued.

At the very least, programs like Bama football and UK basketball should pay their players, and athletes who earn money through performances (i.e. prize money, grants, etc. not sponsorships) should be allowed to keep it. Most college athletes wouldn’t be paid, and that’s fine. But athletes who make a ridiculous amount of money for the NCAA and their school; as well as athletes who are good enough to be winning prize money should absolutely be paid.

I have no idea why the idea that athletes being unpaid makes sports pure still prevails in the sports world – someone… Read more »