This last week I had the amazing opportunity to watch ESPN analyst Jay Bilas and NCAA executive vice president of affairs Oliver Luck debate a very important issue in sports today—should college athletes be paid? Naturally, after hearing both sides of the argument, I began to develop an opinion of my own. While both parties have excellent and well-thought-out arguments, I don't believe either has the best solution to the issue.
First off, I want to point out the flaws in paying athletes. For starters, schools flat out don't have the money. According to USA Today, only a hand full of Division I athletic programs made a sizable profit whatsoever. College sport is barley getting by as it is, as shown by the University of Alabama at Birmingham having to cut their football program last year. If paying players becomes legal, smaller schools are either going to have to accept losing every year, or cut their programs altogether. Nobody wins in that situation. Furthermore, paying players would essentially turn them into employees of the university. Student-athletes, while held to a higher standard than an average student, are still just college kids. Going to school every day shouldn't feel like going to a job. If they begin to be looked at as employees of the university, the 'student' part of the equation is all but taken away.
At the same time, there is clearly a flaw in the current system. College athletics are more popular than ever before, and the athletes are the sole reason for this. While each individual program may not be making much money, the sport industry as a whole is rolling in cash produced by college athletics. Everywhere you look, someone is using either college football or college basketball as a marketing ploy. Dr. Pepper has made countless commercials based solely on their involvement with the College Football Playoffs. The people responsible for making college sports so marketable, the athletes, should be compensated. Going one step further, college athletes should be able to profit off of their talents. Athletes are the only students not encouraged to take what they're good at, and go make money doing it right now. If a student is gifted at photography, he or she is going to go out and take pictures and sell them. If a student is gifted at math, he or she is going to go out and work as an accountant or engineer somewhere and earn a paycheck. Shouldn't athletes get the same opportunity?
Since extremity one way or the other clearly isn't going to work, here's my proposition - simply release the chains off of the athletes and allow them to do their own thing. If Gatorade wants to pay a student athlete $1,000,000 to make a commercial, the student should have the right to do it. He or she has earned that right through his or her actions. If a player wants to sign a baseball and sell it on eBay, he or she should be able to. If a student has earned enough recognition to be marketable, allow the student to be marketable. Student-athletes work their tails off every day to be the best athletes and students they can be; shouldn't they be rewarded for achieving that?