Should college athletes be paid?

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, June 15, 2011, at 3:29 pm

In light of the recent scandals at Ohio State, Southern California, Auburn, and other schools, answering that question with a "yes" seems increasingly to make more sense as a way to end much of the corruption found in the top-tier of collegiate sports.

On Aug. 9 NCAA President Mark Emmert will convene a meeting of college presidents to discuss the future of college athletics. In addition to the pay-for-play question, the Associated Press reports that Emmert plans to address how to hold athletes to higher academic standards and higher standards of behavior while keeping the college athletics economy sustainable. And what an economy it has become: In 2010, the richest college football programs generated more than $1 billion in profits. And those profits have been earned on the backs of student-athletes.

But paying college athletes doesn't sit well with most because it would destroy the amateur nature of the college game. But if college sports are so "amateur" why do college coaches make as much or more than their "professional" counterparts? According to USA Today top college basketball coaches are paid exceptionally well for their skills: Louisville's Rick Pitino, $7,531,378; Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, $4,195,519; Kentucky's John Calipari, $3,917,000; Kansas' Bill Self, $3,615,656; Florida's Billy Donovan, $3,575,400; and Michigan State's Tom Izzo, $3,565,000. The average salary for an NBA head coach is $3,400,000. Top college football coaches earn more than comfortable salaries as well: Alabama's Nick Saban, $5,997,349; Texas' Mack Brown, $5,161,500; Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, $4,375,000; and Louisiana State's Les Miles, $3,905,000. Yes, top NFL head coaches tend to earn more, but only slightly. For example, Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, earns $7,500,000 a year.

If college coaches are being paid what the market demands, should not their players be paid something too? What would happen if college athletes were simply considered employees of the university working for the athletic program? Some students earn money working for the school library or the cafeteria; athletes could receive paychecks for their contributions on the basketball court or the football field.

If a worker is worth his wages (1 Timothy 5:18), why can't that principle be applied to college athletes? Perhaps at the August meeting the college presidents will consider taking steps to compensate student athletes for the value they add to their schools.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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