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.

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Swimmers don’t make money for the university. They cost a lot of money. They should not be paid.


Yes, but womens sports make less than men’s sports…. So if we are just gonna pay based off of who makes the money that causes some major issues with title IX and fairness towards all sports teams.

Division 1 swimmer

What’s fair is who makes the money. Same goes for professional sports, what’s the average salary for a professional female compared to male in all sports? Men generate much more money because the general population enjoys watching them more.


Let me fix that for you….

“Men generate much more money because *society values them more than women.”

You’re welcome. 😀

swimmer 2


Yes. Yes, it is. Give me a system that you think works, and you can poke 1000 holes in the argument as to why it’s unattractive.


The Olympic system, where athletes are not in a professional league but are free to seek outside sponsorship opportunities in exchange for promotion and services rendered. Athletes also remain free to receive Olympic committee stipends and prize money for non-NCAA competitions.

I shall patiently wait for the 1000 holes, I imagine it will take some time to compile.

swimmer 2

(I believe I’m interpreting your comment correctly with my response, but correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t have time for 1000, but here’s a 60-second version of what would happen if you were “free to seek outside sponsorship opportunities in exchange for promotion and services rendered”: – Big football (Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc.) and basketball (Kentucky, Kansas, etc.) schools recruit kids with something along the lines of “hey, come here, we have an alum who owns 10 car dealerships in the area. Do one commercial for him per year, and we’ll pay you $300k a year ” – Smaller schools can’t keep up with this as more and more money floods into making big programs successful… Read more »


– Big football (Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc.) and basketball (Kentucky, Kansas, etc.) schools recruit kids with something along the lines of “hey, come here, we have an alum who owns 10 car dealerships in the area. Do one commercial for him per year, and we’ll pay you $300k a year” Yes, this is my expectation. – Smaller schools can’t keep up with this as more and more money floods into making big programs successful unless they continue to divert resources away from non-revenue sports (and they will) Yes, I expect resources will move away from non-revenue sports at some schools. I do not expect the sport itself to die at the collegiate level. The gap between the… Read more »

swimmer 2

Were you trying to counter my argument? I honestly read your point surrounding the swimming ecosystem and being “constrained” to D1 and D2 environments as “getting rid of college swimming sounds like a good idea”.

Otherwise, I didn’t really see a refute there.

Also, the tax, scam, and cover-up piece is strictly related to football and basketball.


No, you made an argument that I mostly agree with. I just don’t agree with your final conclusion. I don’t think that paying collegiate athletes will result in a slow death of non-revenue sports, but rather those sports moving more towards a model where there are more non-scholarship teams at the D1 level, especially on the male side, which will squeeze out the mid-level D1 swimmers (higher level swimmers and teams will remain as they have been). I view that as more equitable in terms of how the system is structured than the current system, where a small group of athletes is not compensated commensurate to their value.

YES! It is harder than rocket science actually, getting a man to the moon is judging everything off facts. This would have thousands or millions of different opinions conflicting.


If it’s decided that we should start paying athletes, most of the money is going to go to the top-priority athletes of revenue producing sports (football; basketball; baseball; hockey; etc.) not the lesser priority athletes of non-revenue producing sports (swimming & diving; water polo; gymnastics; etc.). Where do you think the money is going to come from to pay the priority athletes in the Big Money sports? Athletic departments aren’t just going to be OK with another couple million dollars being added to their budget/taken out of their profits. No, the money is going to come from the non-revenue producing sports like swimming. Discontinuation of programs, cutting funding, removing scholarships. Paying NCAA athletes is nothing but bad news for College… Read more »


Agreed that they should not be paid.. but it should be ok for they to be sponsored and receive prize money as long as they keep attending college and participating on college meets/NCAA..

I can agree with that.

Roll Tide!

I agree wholeheartedly Rafael… Allowing prize money/sponsorships would be a win-win for everyone… gives a reward to swimmers like Katie and Missy and puts an end to the amateur vs. pro debate. Why not both? However… that still creates a problem for the swimmers who aren’t Olympic and NCAA champions.


There are some ways. Like – Any Contract with a NCAA swimmer will be as such: Some % of the money goes to the college, that would split among all sports, some % for the sport itself (To be divided among all athletes) and some % goes to the athlete. Also brands could sponsor teams/colleges as a whole (On minor cities, would allow less-know brands could pay to stamp their mark on caps/suits) Also how NCAA makes money? They could sell much more rights to the tvs, etc. and brands to be put on deck as ad boards and the money would be split among NCAA and among schools (Which would go to all athletes) and a smaller percentage being… Read more »


The fairness of college athletes being paid to participate in athletics and whether or not it would be a benefit or detriment to swimming are two separate arguments. Your last sentence about “athletes should be honored” is a classic privilege argument where the person who is providing the benefit is deciding how the beneficent should feel about said benefit.


Agreed! College athletes are getting the benefit of a paid (in some cases partial payment) education. As a parent of Division III athlete, I can confirm the value of athletic scholarship (full or partial) is a form of payment. If we move towards the “paid to play” situation, the full value of the scholarship and any additional income will become taxable. This could likely devalue the overall benefit currently provided to college athletes. From the university’s prospective, the increased cost of paying athletes (from revenue based sports) will definitely cost non-revenue based sports available money and support. Stop and think about the number of athletic programs that are currently supported at most major colleges. In most cases, the money to… Read more »


I’m unsure how being the parent of a D3 athlete would mean you could confirm that athletic scholarships is a form of payment, given that D3 athletes by design don’t receive athlete scholarships. I would expect that you could confirm that despite the lack of athletic scholarships in D3 that the program continues to exist, and colleges and universities continue to offer them to athletes who wish to continue to compete through college without receiving a scholarship. As long as the demand remains for swim programs for athletes of collegiate age, swim programs will continue to exist.


PK being a parent of a D3 athlete is referenced specifically because there are no athletic scholarships and at that level so we pay full tuition even if the student participates in a sport. Because we pay full cost for the education, This acts as a baseline cost (or value) of an education that athletes receive when they have a “full ride” to an institution. Let’s estimate the total value of a “full ride” athletic scholarship to a D1 state university at a very conservative $80,000. Here’s the connection => if a non-revenue sport’s support is cut in favor of a revenue sport because they are “paid to play” The non-revenue athlete stands to lose the estimated value of an… Read more »


Open your eyes!!! Paying specific athletes and cutting programs to pay for it hurts all the athletes from non-revenue sports like swimming!! I never said it doesn’t. What I am saying is that the argument against paying athletes in revenue sports (and they aren’t the only one who would receive pay, but that fact gets ignored by a lot of people) shouldn’t simply be based on the fact that it would take money away from non-revenue sports. Given that those sports produce revenue, the capitalist argument is that they should be compensated at amounts proportionate to their worth. The same would hold true for swimming, and all other current and future sports. Arguing that non-revenue athletes deserve to be compensated… Read more »


PK, there is already a difference between scholarship levels for revenue and non-revenue sports thus meeting your capitalist requirements!
For example
D1 Men’s swimming – 9.9 scholarships – fielding ~20 swimmers – 50% tuition
FBS Men’s Football – 85 Scholarships – fielding 85 players – 100% tuition.
D1 – Men’s basketball – 13 Scholarships – fielding 13 players – 100% tuition
D1 Water Polo – 4.5 Scholarships – fielding ~18 players – 25% tuition


FYI, there is already separation in the value of athletic scholarships!

D1 Men’s Swimming – 9.9 Scholarships – Fielding ~20 Swimmers – 50% Tuition
FBS Football – 85 Scholarships – Fielding 85 Players – 100% Tuition
D1 Men’s Basketball – 13 Scholarships – Fielding 13 Players – 100% Tuition
D1 Water Polo – 4.5 Scholarships – Field ~18 Players – 25% Tuition

Capitalism well at work!

swimmer 2

ding ding ding!

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 …

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