Shouts From The Stands: Why NCAA Athletes Should Be Paid

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 [email protected].

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Reggie Southall, with the intention of refuting the “Shouts from the Stands” post published on April 23rd by Davis Malone about Why the NCAA Shouldn’t Pay NCAA Athletes. 

NCAA Student-Athletes Deserve Pay for Play

What other billion-dollar industry, besides the NCAA, has unpaid employees? I cannot name one. It is seen time and time again in the news, universities put under sanctions and penalized for violation of NCAA rules by student-athletes. Like Reggie Bush, Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor and many other athletes, collegiate athletes are constantly in trouble for money related NCAA violations; such as receiving money or benefits, or in the case of Terrelle and his teammates, selling championship rings, jerseys, and awards to make money. As a current student-athlete at the University of Southern California, I propose this question, how can all these money motivated violations come to an end? The answer is simple. Pay the athletes. Although NCAA officials and critics say it would be too complicated, NCAA student-athletes should be paid because they are not amateurs and scholarships are not providing a free education.

The Beginning of the NCAA and College Sports

College sports began in the early 1900s as organized games between students of Ivy League schools that were set up and regulated by the students. The students organized these sports as something they did on the side while they were students. Football was the main sport that spread across the country and became nationally popular. As its popularity grew, more and more people would attend these games, filling stadiums with crazed fans and alumni. Universities took over control of the football to obtain all the benefits, including huge amounts of money. At this point in time, there was no system to enforce amateur rules and many universities took full advantage of that. Competition to acquire the best athletes at universities led to secret recruiting while paying them under the table. As time went on, pay for play scandals became increasingly frequent and university presidents feared that amateurism had become corrupt and ruined college sports. University presidents and athletic directors assembled and decided to grant free tuition and room and board to so there would be less incentive for the athletes to take money under the table. By 1956 this idea had spread across the nation and this gave birth to the notion of receiving a free education in exchange for service and labor on the field (Schooled).

“The NCAA began as an impotent union of colleges… that existed to provide minimal rules” (Schooled). Walter Byers, the founder of the NCAA, wanted it to become the centralized organization to bring order to college sports. In 1951, Byers convinced schools to gather behind the NCAA as a means to control the gambling and corruption taking place in college sports. Any school found guilty of breaking the rules of the association, would have to face some consequence affecting their season. This is where the power and authority of the NCAA began (Schooled).

NCAA: Plantation System

The NCAA is becoming despised in the eyes of many due to its many years of athlete exploitation. The view of the NCAA has become so ruthless that some people are comparing it to a slave plantation system. An example of one of those people is D. Stanley Eitzen; a sociology professor at Colorado State University widely known for his contributions to social inequality and the sociology of sport (D. Stanley). While this analogy between the NCAA and plantations may be a bit extreme, I do find some truth in the claims. Eitzen was quoted in article stating, “The coaches are the overseers who get work from the laborers (players) who provide riches for the masters (universities) while receiving little for their efforts” (Johnson). The lives of student-athletes are constantly controlled by the universities. They are told what to do, how to do it, when to do it and if they don’t abide to those commands, they will be punished. Athletes put in countless hours of practice and training which is draining both physically and mentally. So much hard work and sacrifice is given by student-athletes to bring in millions of dollars for the universities and they see none of it. So in a way, athletes are slaves. They work all day for the benefit their respective universities and in return given a place to eat, sleep, and study. This system worked when it was first put in to place but it is now outdated and needs to be reformed.

Athletes Are Not Amateurs

The NCAA states that student-athletes will not be paid for their talents because that would ruin their amateurism as student-athletes. Are Division1 athletes really amateurs though? The NCAA must have their own created definition for the word amateur because when I looked up the word, the definition does not apply to collegiate athletes. An amateur is defined as the following:

  1. A person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than financial benefit or professional reasons
  2. A person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity (

Most of the male student-athletes I have talked to have aspirations of playing professionally once they are draft eligible or finished their 4 years of eligibility. The NCAA is a feeder system that has most athletes trapped. Young talented high school students, especially in football and basketball, must go through the NCAA in order to reach their goal and play professionally. It is nearly impossible to play professional in football and basketball without going through the NCAA. Of course NCAA officials try to counter this argument by saying athletes have the choice to take other routes to the pros but in reality they don’t. Since 2006, the last year players could enter the draft out of high school; only three U.S. born athletes in both basketball and football combined have been drafted to the pros without going through the NCAA (Schooled). This statistic proves that it is beyond difficult to play professionally without taking the college route. If athletes could take other routes, they would. There is but one bridge to get from high school to the pros, the NCAA. I play at my university of course to win a national championship, but to get drafted and go pro. It has been my plan since I signed my letter of intent. My sport is not my hobby, it will one be my means of living one day. Hobbies are done for pleasure, not collegiate sports. I prove this point to show that most athletes go to college for professional reasons which is against the definition of amateur.

The second definition doesn’t apply to either. I can’t think of one collegiate athlete, especially D1 that is inexperienced or unskilled. Athletes are recruited to play at these universities for their elite talents and skills in their respective sport. If they were not skilled, why would they be sought out and recruited? Being a collegiate athlete is an accomplishment that not all athletes get to experience because not everyone possesses the elite talents required to do so. One must have tremendous skills to play at this level in any sport. Furthermore, athletes learn and develop these special skills through years and years of experience. Experience is how someone becomes extremely talented at something. To say that collegiate athletes are inexperienced or unskilled is simply false. So how are collegiate athletes amateurs?

Athletic Scholarship Does Not Equal Free Education

Critics say student-athletes shouldn’t be paid because they receive scholarships which pay for their education and that in itself is priceless. They say education is imperative in today’s society in order to get a lucrative job and career and athletes get that for free. This claim is false because scholarships only pay for tuition, room and board, and books. Scholarships do not pay for the full cost attending college. “The Collegiate Athletes Coalition (CAC) estimates that NCAA scholarships are worth about $2000 less than the cost of attending a university… Former Nebraska head football coach and United States Congressman, Tom Osborne, calculates the gap between scholarship funding and the actual cost of attendance to be closer to $3,000” (Johnson). This quotation indicates that athletes on full scholarship, and not all athletes are, must come up with $2,000 or more a year to go attend school. Over a 4 year collegiate that career, that debt is now at $8,000-$12,000. Where is that money supposed to come from? Some may say get a job like other students, but that is nearly impossible with the hectic schedules as student-athletes. Between weights, practice, meetings, class, games, traveling, tutoring, homework and recommended 8 hours of sleep for maximum performance mentally and physically, where are athletes supposed to find the time? There are not enough hours in the day.

Other critics state athletes should take out loans like the normal student body if they need money. First, they shouldn’t have to take out a loan because they recruited to attend school. Student-athletes are not like normal students who apply and write letters trying to sell themselves to the university. They are sought out by the university and coaches go into their homes and try to sell the university to them. Universities spend thousands of dollars to build new state of the art facilities to attract the top athletes, hoping we attend. Second, athletes are supposed to have a “free education.” Loans must be paid back once college is over. So if I take out a loan for $3,000 a year, I will have to pay $12,000 back at some point for my 4 years’ worth of loans. This means that I am now paying money for attending college. But wait I thought we are given a free education? Not true.

This $2,000-$3,000 gap is a perfect reason for why athletes should be paid. Arian Foster, NFL running back who attended the University of Tennessee, describes how tough his college experience was without money. He tells a story about one night after a game how he was with some teammates and they had no food or money in their dorm. He explains how he called his coach and explained to him the situation. He told his coach, “either you bring us food or we are going to go out and do something stupid” (Schooled). His coach had no choice but to violate NCAA rules and bring them food. This story was upsetting to me because the NCAA leaves athletes with no choice but to violate its rules or break the law. Foster also described how many of his teammates sold drugs in order to make money for food and basic needs. I was not surprised by this because I personally know of some student-athletes who do the same. It is truly a shame that the most talented athletes are forced to sell drugs to make money for themselves. This is unfortunately what the NCAA has made of its athletes. With no other of means of making money to bridge the gap not taken care of by a scholarship, athletes have turned to criminal activities to make ends meet.

Imagine what athletes in non-revenue sports face in terms of the gap mentioned above. Athletes participating in non-revenue sports such as swimming are typically not on a full scholarship. For example, an average D1 men’s swim roster consists of 29 swimmers and only allotted 9.9 scholarships by the NCAA. This means that all of those swimmers are most likely on a partial scholarship. They still spend the same amount of time for athletics as those on full scholarships but have even more of a financial gap due to the lesser scholarship. One solution to this problem is allowing swimmers to receive other benefits like prize money. Outside of the NCAA, there are other amateur swim competitions and leagues, such as USA Swimming. USA Swimming holds an Arena Pro Swim Series which offers amateur swimmers the chance to win prize money individually for placing top 3 in Olympic-distance races. As of now, collegiate swimmers are not allowed to accept this money if they so choose to participate in these competitions. However, due to same time constraints but less aid from scholarships, swimmers should be allowed to accept this prize money from races such as the Arena Pro Swim Series to reduce the financial inequality between the revenue sports and non-revenue sports. If the NCAA will not reward swimmers for their tremendous hard work, swimmers should be allowed to turn to other amateur organizations for financial benefits of winning.

Paying Athletes is not Too Complicated

NCAA officials always state even if the NCAA would consider paying athletes, it would be too complicated to figure out how to do so. This argument is ridiculous to say the least. This is not quantum physics or rocket science we are discussing here. How is it possible that we can figure out how to put a man on the moon but can’t decide how athletes should be compensated? NCAA officials have meetings all day long and are able to come up with hundreds of rules on how to govern athletes. I think it about time they begin to meet and discuss hundreds of options on how to pay them. I am more that certain that all the officials with their fancy degrees can figure out a plausible way. The problem is they don’t want to. They can keep saying it is too complicated but they are just delaying the inevitable.

I think it is in the best interest for the NCAA to begin paying student-athletes because there will be less incentive to violate rules and receive money or other benefits. The same reason scholarships were given in the first place is now the same reason why we should be paid. Decades ago the cost of living at college was not as expensive, but as the times have changed, the cost living at college has gone up and that where student athletes need the money. If we have enough money to live and actually attend college we won’t need the extra benefits; we will be financially stable and happy. Additionally, if student-athletes were paid, the NCAA would no longer have so much hatred from them. High school athletes will be more motivated and excited to come to college and educate themselves while continuing to develop their talents athletically. As of now, athletes go to college because they have to, not because they want to. Who wants to go work profusely and struggle to eat at night because of finances? Ultimately, if the NCAA begins to pay athletes, they will be in good graces with them. Student-athletes will be proud to play at universities and represent the NCAA with respect. It is time for a change.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

I understand why some athletes want to be paid. But it will most definitely impact swimming and other non-revenue sports, as the money to pay the football and basketball players must come from somewhere. It’s naïve to think Athletic Directors won’t look to swim teams, track teams and others getting a “free ride” from the university in order to save money when they start paying athletes.

And the first to go will be men’s swim teams. The uncomfortable truth is that it is politically acceptable to destroy, or hinder, the swimming dreams of men. But not so with women; universities will go to great lengths not to cut women’s sports.

Derek Mead
8 years ago

The problem I see is you have to pay everyone student-athlete the same amount, or have a formula to calculate how much each athlete gets. So if you’re not going to pay swimmers, that’s fine, but it means you’re saying a football player is worth more. I agree to profits they are, but the line won’t stop there.

Certain players will want more than other players. Do you pay the star quarterback the same you pay a bench guy who never plays? How do you determine what each player is worth. Personally, I’m against paying student athletes, but I understand the argument to pay them.

CT Swim Fan
8 years ago

How about this, give the student/athletes a choice. You can be looked at as an student/athlete and the status quo will endure, or you can be looked at as an employee/athlete, get your $2000-$3000 cost of attendance money but now pay taxes on the full value of your formally free education just like any other employee of the university.

8 years ago

I have a solution, reduce each football and basketball coach’s pay by 50%. I just found each school a significant amount of money. If the athlete’s don’t deserve the money they earn the school, why do the coaches deserve such ludicrous amounts.

8 years ago

The student athletes who are pursuing a legitimate degree know that a college scholarship is a huge head start in the pursuit of a career. Except for men’s basketball and football, most SA’s fall into this category. The problem is that men’s football and basketball are making and distributing enormous amounts of money and the athletes in the high profile conferences are justifiably angry that they do not share in the profits. The sports fans of our country are primarily interested in men’s football and basketball and tend to agree with the logic that the football and basketball players at the high profile schools deserve to be paid. My experience is that when fans are confronted with what would happen… Read more »

FBS Football Coach
8 years ago

In support of paying my high profile athletes, let me be the first to offer up some of my $3,000,000 annual salary from the university to support non-revenue sports!!! I already make so much that I can afford to share a little!

8 years ago

since they will be paid then they don’t need a scholarship. They can use the $ earned to pay for school.

8 years ago

I coach College swimming and have a few scholarships on the men and women’s teams. As of right now I have a roster of 40 athletes. Tuition is over 35k per year. In my situation after you back out expenses my program nets the school over half a million dollars. I actually fund the football team. Just saying

Division 1 swimmer
8 years ago

0% of tuition goes to athletic departments. You’re implying that 100% does. Your team doesn’t generate money.

About Tony Carroll

Tony Carroll

The writer formerly known as "Troy Gennaro", better known as Tony Carroll, has been working with SwimSwam since April of 2013. Tony grew up in northern Indiana and started swimming in 2003 when his dad forced him to join the local swim team. Reluctantly, he joined on the condition that …

Read More »