Should College Athletes Be Paid?

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Editors Note: This is a project Keeping It Heel staff writer John Finlayson wrote as part of a college writing project in 2010.  In some instances he refers to the present day, please keep in mind the time frame in which this piece was originally produced.  The subject matter as a whole remains a hot topic today and the facts presented remain factual today.  

It was soon the beginning of the 2010 college football season.  This year the University of North Carolina was propelled to the top of the preseason rankings and was considered a favorite to win the ACC conference.  While things were looking good, they were soon hit by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for investigation of receiving illegal benefits.  Cases such as North Carolina are not rare in college sports these days.  In all of the big revenue sports such as football and basketball, athletes receiving illegal benefits are common.  With every case there is the argument “how were the athletes supposed to know the benefit was illegal?”  Another argument is the athlete didn’t have any money.  These questions both touch the ethical issue of should athletes get paid?  After all of the “scandals” of receiving illegal benefits, it is easy to believe that if athletes don’t receive compensation, they will be more susceptible to the illegal benefits provided.  Therefore it only seems right for athletes to be paid for the reason of the fairness of play for pay and to get rid of the difficult and unfair enforcement of punishing teams for illegal benefits.

Jan 3, 2013; Fort Lauderdale FL, USA; Detail view of the BCS logo during a press conference for the 2013 BCS National Championship game at Harbor Beach Marriott Resort

The controversy over whether to pay athletes has been going on since the late 1800’s and the first half of the 20th century.  In the 1920’s the Carnegie Foundation made headlines with a report “American College Athletics”, which surveyed 112 schools where at least 81 had players receiving open payrolls from boosters (Branch).  About 10 years later there was a strike at the University of Pittsburgh where many underclassmen players complained that they were getting paid less than their upperclassmen peers.  Finally in 1948 the NCAA enacted a “Sanity Code” that prohibited all concealed and indirect benefits for college athletes.  Any money was limited to academic scholarships and financial need (Branch).  Many schools chose to ignore the ruling and it was eventually dismissed.  In a couple of years, the NCAA would finally figure out to penalize schools for paying athletes.  Universities and the NCAA have been continuing to battle for the rest of the century and present.

Another cause that supports the fairness of getting paid to play is the proliferation of poorer athletes.  Many poorer kids growing up aspire to become a professional athlete due to believing that is the only way they can escape the troubled neighborhoods from growing up.  Whereas many kids dream of going pro in sports, they know that they have to go through college first where they still struggle to get by.  UNC trustee Don Curtis says “some of these impoverished players can’t even afford a movie ticket or gas to get home.  I think we should pay these guys something” (Branch).  With all of the less fortunate athletes in college athletics, they face the harsh reality that the percentage of being able to go pro and get paid is a very small.  With such a small percent of athletes that are able to play professionally, the others who are not are more susceptible to taking anything they can get from anyone who is willing to offer.  To the majority of these kids they could care less what the consequences of receiving illegal benefits are, most of them need the money to live off of.