Viewpoint: Should athletes be paid?

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Before I got here, I didn’t really understand the debate over whether student-athletes should be paid. After four years of playing collegiate football at Michigan State University, I’ve now heard multiple arguments for and against. But it’s still an issue I struggle with.

How would it be regulated? Would small school athletes be paid the same as athletes at the Power Five conferences? How much would that be? What about non-scholarship players?

And there’s the issue of how universities would pay for the needs of all of their sports programs. Few revenue sports create profits for universities (primarily football and basketball), and those sports help pay for the needs of other sports teams each year.

Scholarship players do receive money from the university through their tuition scholarships, and they have the ability to attend a four-year university for free. Universities are starting to provide stipends, too, trying to assist student-athletes with their expenses for food and other essentials.

But let me help you understand what it is like to be a collegiate athlete.

Athletes are put on this pedestal, bigger than the normal student. But our workload is just a tad different from our peers. Imagine your morning starting with a lift at 6 a.m., then having two or three classes before noon and then meetings and practice that end around 6:45 p.m., followed by required tutoring sessions. So, we are looking at a day that is finally over around 8:30 or 9 at night — all of that on top of the regular academic load of homework that all students have.

Also, let me give you an example of how fast a scholarship check can get spent in college. Consider this scenario.

Joe Athlete receives a scholarship check four times a semester, at the end of each month in the amount of $1,450, and he does not receive any extra money from grants or other student financial aid. Joe decides to live off campus, where monthly rent can easily cost $650 to $750 — not including essential utilities like gas and electric.

But what about non-scholarship athletes? They go through everything that a scholarship athlete would go through, but there is no scholarship check. Everything from room and board to books and tuition has to be handled by the athlete and their families.

“When I decided to be a preferred walk-on here, I knew that I had to take care of all of my expenses,” Michigan State outside linebacker Sean Harrington said. “But having the opportunity to play here has always been a dream of mine. Prior to this last season, I was actually put on scholarship for my senior year, and it has meant the world to my family and I.”

Let’s be honest. Student-athletes are used by the university to make money. Yet, according to NCAA bylaw 12.5.2.1, players are forbidden from permitting “the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.”

When you look around college campuses across the nation, that is exactly what you see: athletes’ pictures being used to sell a ticket.

“Honestly, I think they have done a better job over my time in college trying to compensate athletes more than just the scholarship, but I do think there are certain things that are not always taken into account,” said Taya Reimer, an MSU women’s basketball player.

"If athletes were going to get paid, the NCAA as we know it would not be the same," said Jennifer Smith, Michigan State senior associate athletic director.

“If athletes were going to get paid, the NCAA as we know it would not be the same,” said Jennifer Smith, Michigan State senior associate athletic director.

College football and basketball are lucrative businesses.

NCAA basketball’s March Madness earned about $900 million in revenue, and if teams make it to the Final Four they could get more than $8.3 million, according to a 2015 report from CBS News. The Big Ten received $132.5 million from top bowl games and the College Football Playoffs for the  2016-17 season, Forbes reported.

“The biggest issue in determining to pay athletes is what is the worth of an athlete,”said Jennifer Smith, Michigan State senior associate athletic director. “If you are the starting quarterback, what would be the amount to pay him? If he/she is a swimmer, how much would we pay them? If they want to be paid, then they would have to pay for the things that a scholarship takes care of, for example all of the gear that athletes receive. They would have to pay for it. I don’t think that the NCAA will ever pay athletes.

“If athletes were going to get paid, the NCAA as we know it would not be the same.” 

There is no easy answer to this issue, but there is more that could be done to help college athletes. If athletes received just a fraction more of the revenue flowing through athletic departments, how many fewer student-athletes would be motivated to obtain “improper benefits.”

Maybe, Southern Methodist University would have never received the death penalty in 1987 or Reggie Bush would not have had to give up his Heisman Trophy.

It won’t happen during my time as a collegiate athlete, but in due time I think student-athletes will be compensated for their time, effort and abilities.

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