The Great Debate Over Compensation for College Athletes

January 8th, 2018 | by CollegeAD
The Great Debate Over Compensation for College Athletes


The NCAA, and really all of intercollegiate athletics, are in flux. It seems that all at once, decades old questions and debates are coming to a head, and sooner rather than later, there may be a tectonic shift in the sports we’ve grown familiar with. Concussions, academic scandal, coaching salaries, Title IX and sexual assault have already made lasting impacts, but one seemingly monolithic question could dwarf them all.

Are college athletes entitled to additional compensation beyond their scholarships and current benefits?

If you are the least bit familiar with college sports then you’ve likely already formed some opinion on the matter. Whether you call it pay-for-play or just think of this as an athletes’ rights issue, you’ve undoubtedly heard some sort of argument one way or the other, but rarely do we see those arguments challenged. The discussion always seems one sided at best and superficial at worst. This is what we hope to change.

In order to create a real dialog, CollegeAD has brought together two individuals who are both highly experienced and well versed in the subject of athlete compensation. While diametrically opposed on the topic, both represent what they feel is the best interest of the athletes.

CollegeAD is proud to introduce our contenders.

Jonathan Yates teaches The Politics of Sports  and has spent much of his career working for members of Congress in a variety of press and legislative posts. He is the author of thousands of articles that have appeared in such periodicals and websites as The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Investor’s Business Daily, and TheStreet, among others. He has degrees from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown University Law Center; and has also matriculated at the U.S. Naval War College and The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. (SAIS)


Andy Schwarz is an antitrust economist with a subspecialty in sports economics. Andy was the case manager for the NFL’s economic expert in L.A. Raiders v. NFL and for Plaintiffs’ economic experts in O’Bannon v. NCAA, and has testified to Congress and in state and federal litigation. He has co-authored a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Sports Economics and in College Athletes’ Rights and Well-Being. His latest project is, a paid college basketball league set to launch in 2019 or 2020.

Mr. Yates will do us the honor of defending the current model of college athlete compensation, while Mr. Schwarz will argue for change to the amateur model. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Jonathan Yates:

Paying college athletes would damage greatly the current model that, while not perfect, delivers “extraordinary benefits” as:

– Schools would drop teams due to higher costs. Over 400 teams were cut due to the costs of Title IX, which mandated equal funding for men’s and women’s sports. Similar, if not worse, carnage would ensue.

– Fewer teams mean fewer scholarships, and fewer opportunities for walk-ons.

– Many of these teams dropped train Olympic athletes, both from the US and abroad.  Olympics efforts would suffer.

– The campus culture would deteriorate as the average student graduates nearly $40,000 and debt.  The class I taught at the University of Iowa last semester, The Politics of Sports, had 37 students with nearly all opposing pay.  Cited constantly was the debt load non-athletes had to assume, among many other reasons.

– Historic Black Colleges and Universities programs would be devastated.  In interviews with ADs at HBCUs, all stated that there would not be sports at their schools if they had to pay.

– Income inequality would be exacerbated for both institutions and individuals.  There would be a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots in schools due to the higher costs.  Many student-athletes now on scholarship are the first in their family to go to college.   Fewer teams mean fewer scholarships which mean fewer being the first in their family to go to college and earn undergraduate and graduate degrees while playing sports.

– Having to pay student-athletes would bring the great unknown into a system that is the best in history. American schools dominate the ratings of the world’s best, with much of this having to do with the athletic department.  Some of the best institutions in the world have some of the best athletic department such as Stanford, Duke, UNC, UCLA, Virginia and Berkeley, among many others.  Maryland President Wallace Loh calls the athletic department “the front porch” of a school as it brands it for the world.  The blow back and backlash is unknown if college athletes are to be paid, but count on it being severe and unnecessary as the present system is impressive and improving.

Andy Schwarz:

For any assessment of the justice of fairness of a system, the first question we must answer is “what is our standard for what is just?”  Is it just or fair that some people receive an offer to attend school with no out-of-pocket expense because they bring value to the school through merit, while others pay full price?  As a society, America has generally decided that equality is about allowing each of us to earn what he/she is worth rather than mandating that we all receive equal income.  We have equal rights, but not a guarantee of an equal outcome.  And while I as a citizen have a duty to pay taxes and help support society as a whole, generally speaking, equality does not mean that I must give up my right to earn my worth just become someone else might not be as skilled or gifted in his/her career as I am in mine and could possibly earn less than I do.

So with that in mind, when I ask whether an industry is exploitative, I do not start with the question of whether the compensation seems sufficient, but instead I ask whether compensation is set by the free interplay forces of supply and demand.  If so, then low wages are the “fault” of an excess of labor supply relative to demand.  Our general rule is that we all have the right to earn what we’re worth in the market, and if we choose to override those market forces (like with a minimum wage), we do so knowingly.  

For example, we provide incentives for the well-off to give to charity.  We also provide for the welfare of children.  And for animals, even if they are the property of an owner, we nevertheless mandate they are well-cared for, given enough food and so forth.  In these exceptional cases, the question is not “what are you worth?” but “do you have enough?” and when we are at our kindest, we provide that “enough” for those in these second-class categories of children, chattel, and charity.

Essentially, what Jonathan has outlined above is an implicit “enough” argument, i.e., in exchange for providing their athletic services, college athletes should be content with what schools provide because it is “enough” compensation, and so we can skip right to the next question of “what’s a better use of the money these athletes would earn in a free (or freer) market?”  But that question cannot be breezed over as if it does not matter.  As free adults in American society, college athletes are entitled (as we all are) to earn what they can in a market free of collusion, and so the fundamental question that must first be addressed if we are to be a just and equal society is whether college athletes in today’s system are in full possession of their rights, including the right to earn what they are worth.

The answer to that question is clearly and emphatically no, and by skipping past it, Jonathan has missed the point entirely.  Even if what he argues above were true (and I am happy to go point by point and rebut much of it), it would be moot, because the first and only question is whether college athletes are being treated justly by the NCAA and their member schools, and the answer to that is no.  It is no, not because what a college athlete receives is of low value – to the contrary, a college scholarship can be very valuable.  Rather, the answer is no because college athletes are forced to offer up their services – services so valuable that schools are willing to offer them tens of thousands of dollars of educational services in exchange for a year of their athletic services – in a market in which all 351 Division I schools that would normally compete for their services, have instead agreed to limit total compensation to room, board, tuition, fees, books, and cash payments up to the full cost of attendance (plus additional payments for winning conference championships, going to bowls or tournaments, etc.).   However generous that offer, it is not a just outcome; the just outcome is one in which that agreement vanishes and the interplay of athletes’ skills and colleges’ demand for those skills sets a fair price for each athlete.

We use that standard for coaches.  We do not prohibit a head coach from earning more than, say, $200,000 per year because the additional cost of a high-end head coach (which can exceed $10 million these days) might result in schools dropping other sports teams due to higher costs.  If coaches earned less, then perhaps schools would use the excess to fund more scholarships.  Indeed, one might find that undergraduates in Jonathan’s class would prefer if coaches earned less than the millions they receive, especially those student who are nearly $40,000 in debt.

But however better that money could be used, we don’t impose a cap on college coaches’ pay because as a society, we have said that coaches are full citizens, and as such are entitled to earn what the market chooses to reward them with, even if, perhaps, nurses or social workers add more to society and yet earn less.  The just outcome for athletes is to be treated with those same full rights.*  And thus, as past NCAA efforts to cap coaches’ pay have been struck down by the courts as an infringement on coaches’ economic rights, the just outcome for athletes is to be afforded the same competitive outcome, to have their compensation set by market forces, not collusion, and for the system to adjust as needed, rather than to argue that what the athletes get is enough, and the rest of what they are worth will be repurposed for other costs.

* Let me be clear, that what I am arguing for is not some mandatory salary or minimum wage for athletes. In the just world I envision, no school would be required to offer their athletes any compensation, just as today no one mandates that Kentucky provide its basketball stars with scholarships or cash stipends. Rather, this just outcome would simply remove the current cap that prohibits schools like Kentucky from offering whatever it sees fit. No school would be forced to pay a dime, unless they chose to heed those same forces of supply and demand that lead them to pay coaches millions. And of course, we all know they will pay more, but only because athletes are worth more than they get today. It is that gap, between what they would get and what they do get, that is the quantification of the injustice baked into “amateurism.” 

But in truth, most of Jonathan’s concerns are unfounded.  From mid-1976 until mid-2015, the NCAA forbade schools from providing athletes with the cash payments needed to cover their full cost of attendance (“COA”).  In litigation in 2006-08 (known as White v. NCAA), the NCAA argued that if COA payments were allowed, that schools would cut other sports, that they would choose to reduce the number of scholarships, and that the system would collapse.  Much of these arguments were also made in the O’Bannon litigation, including the claim that if colleges began to provide any more money, even just to cover COA, that America would lose its Olympic competitiveness.

The Courts told the NCAA to sort that out themselves, and forbade any cap on full COA.  Nothing was mandated.  The NCAA simply could not forbid COA anymore, and had to let schools choose.  What happened?  Well, schools did not cancel sports.  Schools did not reduce scholarships.  Our swim team did just fine in the Rio Olympics, earning gold and also lucrative compensation along the way.  But schools also chose to pay football and basketball athletes more – the same money the NCAA had argued would bankrupt the system and lead to Jonathan’s parade of horribles was somehow found – virtually every FBS program (and many DI programs without football) choose to raise athletes pay.  Men received COA payments.  Women did too.  Some programs reserved the money for revenue sports, others spread them to all athletes.  It worked out.  Dan Guerrero of UCLA swore under oath COA in 2006-08 that it was highly unlikely UCLA would choose to fund COA. The same Dan Guerrero stood in front of an audience in NYC in December 2015 and said COA had gone off without a hitch.  

It’s not like we didn’t have apt analogues to tell us it would all work out fine.  We had the example of the Olympics in the early 1990s and Tennis in the late 1960s and even baseball in the 19th century to tell us that systems can transition to honest professionalism without disastrous consequences.  The COA experiment just confirmed what economists already know – economic competition that allows athletes to earn what the market bears is not a bad to be avoided, but rather that it spurs sports to higher levels of greatness.


Athletes are free to leave or not go to college and play professionally, but few are that good.

That is a fact.

NCAA research found that about three-quarters of D1 basketball players, half of D2, and one-quarter of D3 expected to play professionally.  Less than 1% will make the NBA.  Moreover, average pro careers are shorter than a scholarship period.

This is the market dictating that most are not good enough to be paid.

Based on what players make in the minor leagues, scholarship athletes receive far superior benefits, even though few are good enough to play professionally.

Minor league baseball players start off at about $13,000.00 a year.  The G-League in basketball average is about twice that.  College scholarships have “extraordinary benefits” worth well in the six figures.  If a player is still in the minor leagues after five years that portends a gloomy future.  After five years, a scholarship athlete can graduate with three degrees and a bright career.

If a college scholarship did not reflect their worth or was not best for their needs, more would follow LiAngelo Ball and LeMelo Ball and sign to play professionally in Lithuania.

But there is no mass movement of players rejecting scholarships to college (and potentially graduate school) to play professionally.  That is what is known in economics as the “rational agent model.”  This postulates that a “…rational agent is assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the self-determined best choice of action.”

Or, as my father used to say, “Things generally make sense.”

Nothing makes sense about paying athletes that the market has proven are not worthy.  If good enough, Lithuania beckons if UCLA or another school doesn’t make sense.  


The argument that Jonathan is making is somewhat like arguing that because some computer programmers aren’t good enough to work for Google, they shouldn’t be paid to work for some lesser tech firm.   Almost none of the million-dollar coaches are good enough to be head coaches in the NFL or NBA, even the best of the collegiate ranks have been fired from the pros.  And yet, because the courts prohibit colleges from agreeing to cap those NFL/NBA failures’ pay, they earn millions through the give and take of supply and demand.  But athletes do not have that same access to a competitive market.  The reason college athletes at elite programs are not paid today is not because they are not worth money to schools, but instead because the schools have agreed, collusively, not to pay more than the COA cap mentioned above.  They are not amateurs because they have no value, but rather because amateurism is enforced, with NCAA doling out punishments.  No one has to punish fast food firms that choose to pay more than minimum wage to prevent them from only paying the minimum; the market does that.†

† Again, I am not asking for mandatory pay for athletes, simply for athletes to have the right to a market in which if a school chooses to offer more, no one is punished if the athlete accepts that offer. And if, as Jonathan says below, everybody is already too broke to pay more, then the market rate won’t rise much if at all. Broke companies don’t offer major pay raises. And athletes don’t have to accept pay if they don’t want to – or don’t want to pay taxes. The only way that athletes will find themselves with a higher tax bill is if they earn more money – in my past work I’ve shown the break-even point is less than $3,000 of new salary. 

Again, we saw this in 2015.  The old cap did not allow athletes to get COA stipends, and the athletes who didn’t make the NFL or NBA were just as “not good enough to get paid” in 2014 as in 2015, but their pay jumped up by $2,000 to $5,000 a year.  The very fact that schools cheat on the cartel‡ rules is itself evidence that athletes are worth more than they are allowed to get.  The FBI has offered up evidence that some athletes are worth hundreds of thousands more.  Arguing that they are worth no more than the cap is ignoring the obvious market signals; one has to be willfully blind not to see that schools would (and maybe do) pay more if they could.

‡ To be clear, an economic cartel is not the same thing as a drug cartel. “A cartel is an organization created from a formal agreement between a group of producers of a good or service to regulate supply in an effort to regulate or manipulate prices. In other words, a cartel is a collection of otherwise independent businesses or countries that act together as if they were a single producer and thus are able to fix prices for the goods they produce and the services they render without competition. (Reference

Jonathan is right that athletes are free to go to college or not, but again, that misses the point.  When the major computer manufacturers were caught fixing the price of computer memory or LCD screens, it did not matter than we as consumers were free not to buy their price-fixed products.  Because these firms denied us a market-price, via cartel conduct, we were entitled to relief from the courts.  A collusive price is not a free-market price and arguing that one can take-or-leave a monopolist’s offer went out of legal fashion in 1890, when Congress passed the Sherman Act, which gave all Americans a right to prices set free of collusion.  

In my first analysis, I described Jonathan as making an implicit “enough” argument, i.e., that athletes should be grateful with what they get because it is more than other people earn.  But as I explained, the “enough” standard is not one America uses for free adult members of society. Now he has made the case far more explicitly that athletes should be grateful with “enough.” Yes, “Minor league baseball players start off at about $13,000.00 a year.  The G-League in basketball average is about twice that.”  And yes, the list price of a college scholarship is often more than $100,000.  But in the words of a great philosopher, “so effing what?”  The commissioner of a minor league baseball league earns peanuts compared to Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten.  A pop star earns more than a janitor.  I am sure Jonathan earns more than hard-working folks at Taco Bell. But we do not say to any of those privileged people, Jonathan included, that they must give up their economic right to ask for a raise, to switch from one job to another if the new one will pay more, etc., just because others earn less than they do. “You do not have it as bad as that guy over there” is perhaps comforting, but it is not a reason to deny someone their right to earn all they are worth. Exploitation is not giving someone nothing; it is giving them less than what they would earn in an open market.

Imagine you inherit a house from a distant relative in another state, and you know that on the open market it would be worth $100,000.  But now imagine all 351 real estate firms in the state agree that you can only sell it for $25,000, because it’s not the best house in the state, because other people live in hovels, and, well, you should be grateful you inherited a house at all, because after all there are homeless people.  Of course, this would be garbage argumentation – the house is worth $100,000 and the fact that some houses (like those in the NFL neighborhood) are worth more, or some (like in the G-League neighborhood) are worth less, doesn’t mean yours isn’t worth what it’s worth. It is simply the price-fixing agreement that holds down your house’s value below its true worth.

And it would not make sense for you to let the house just sit there, so you sell.  $25,000 is worth more than, say, $15,000.  And similarly, for many, the collusive payment colleges provide, in education and in cash, exceeds their next best offer, whether it’s to play in Lithuania or the G-League, or flip burgers.  So most athletes choose college.

Jonathan calls this the “rational agent model” but to be specific, what he is arguing is a form of what we economists call “revealed preference.” It’s the idea that when we see a rational agent choosing Product A at price $a over Product B at price $b, we know that he/she prefers A at $a to B at $b.  That is, he/she reveals his/her preference between those two products.  But this says nothing about market value.  If I sell my inherited house for $25,000, it means that was a better option than, say, renting it out or leaving it vacant.  But it says nothing about what I would have received from selling, absent the real estate cartel.

Stupid cartels push prices up or down until people walk away.  Smart cartels offer the price just before the point you turn elsewhere, which allows them to extract the maximum value from the transactions.  The NCAA is not a stupid cartel, and so when we see athletes acquiesce to cartel pricing, it tells us the cartel offer is better than their second choice, maybe working a minimum wage job.  The fact that the NCAA wisely picks a price that leads athletes to acquiesce just says they are a rational monopoly, not that the price they offer is what would prevail in a market absent the agreement to cap pay at COA.  The far more interesting test of revealed preference would be to see what USC would choose to offer a LB who would otherwise go to Notre Dame.  If they would pay more than the COA cap, then we know the current cap is exploitative.

Jonathan’s father argued that things basically make sense.  It’s natural to assume that things are the way they are for a reason, but here the reason is not market value, but collusion.  Even the NCAA has acknowledged, in court filings and elsewhere, that if the cap on pay were lifted, athletes would earn more.  Don’t make the mistake of seeing market outcomes when there is collusion. That would not get you a passing grade in an intro econ course in industrial organization.

Similarly, Jonathan has argued that things seems ok now, right, so why change them?    But things are not okay now, because the “ok” is predicated on a segment of our population having their fundamental rights abrogated.  Until college athletes resume being full citizens with economic rights, fear of change needs to be subordinated to the need for change, to right an injustice, and then we can put all of the high-powered business acumen within college sports to work at making sure the system thrives while being true to the American system of justice, rather than taking the lazy approach of stifling economic freedom out of fear of the unknown.

Two final points, about race and socio-economics, since Jonathan has argued that capping athlete pay is about income equality.  The athletes who will receive the highest pay in a market economy are not the “haves” of society, by and large.  More than half of all FBS football (and equivalent basketball) athletes are (a) from families poor enough to receive Pell Grants and (b) from minority communities.  Many are in both categories.  The sports that Jonathan worries about are filled with middle and upper-class athletes from majority white communities.  Arguing that income inequality is improved by funneling money from a poor black running back to a wealthy white member of the equestrian or golf team is fighting income equality is the height of folly.  Without any doubt, a freer market would shift money away from people in high tax brackets – from million dollar coaches and the children of the wealthy – and towards those who come from nothing and for whom the four years they spend in college might be their four highest potential sports-earning years.   More importantly, the football athletes’ right to a market rate for his services is far superior to the golf player’s claim on a chunk of the football athletes’ market earnings.  

And the same holds for HBCUs§ relative to their PWI (Predominantly White Institution) brethren within the system.  A typical SEC school receives something like 10 times as much sports revenue as does a SWAC school.  And the SWAC schools receive far more than the typical HBCU, which play their sports in D-II or in the NAIA.  Arguing that amateurism is a boon for the HBCUs gets it entirely backwards, and this is why I am proud to be part of the HBL movement (, an effort to bring paid college basketball to HBCU campuses and help restore the luster of HBCU sports through market forces.

§ As for HBCUs, it is probably important for readers to know I am involved in forming the HBL (see our website) which is will be a paid college basketball league run in parallel with amateur sports (i.e., as paid club sports).  As part of our pitch, we point out that a typical Division II HBCU receives approximately $60,000 – $80,000 per year from the NCAA.  Not per athlete or per team, but in total.  NAIA schools, which are a large share of HBCUs, receive nothing.  And even at the pinnacle of HBCU sports programs, the schools in the Division I SWAC and MEAC conferences, distributions from March Madness average around $1 million per year.  $1 million is huge to HBCUs, but is a pittance of the more than $12 billion earned by the college sports industrial complex.  We have receive substantial interest from HBCUs who see paid college sports as a way to change the trajectory of their programs.  The market will clearly sort this one out, but we’re hopeful that our fusion of the best college basketball athletes and the best HBCUs will prove a successful commercial product the relaunch the HBCU sport programs across the board, and we see amateurism as an impediment to HBCU progress.



Andy Schwarz is a smart guy, but forcing schools to pay athletes is not an intelligent idea.

It forces the great unknown with unforeseen consequences that will be formidable into the best system for educating student-athletes in history.  As Thoreau said, it is characteristic of wisdom not to take desperate measures.  This is indeed irony worthy of an Alanis Morrissett song as it is the student-athletes who will suffer the most from this unneeded drastic step, if it transpires.

In the most recent Olympic year of 2016, American colleges dominated, led by Stanford and Cal-Berkeley.

For the 2016 rankings of the world’s best universities, those from the United States also dominated academically.  The 2016 Center for World University Rankings, had the top three and seven of the top ten from America. With just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, more than 50 US universities, many with strong sports programs, are in the top 100.

A large part of this is owed to success of their athletic departments in training student-athletes.

It is of little surprise that Stanford and Cal-Berkeley were rated in the top seven for academics.  Research from Ohio University has shown that a strong athletic department can increase the academic ranking of a school by nearly 20 percent.  About this, Dr. James Clement, the President of Clemson University, stated “People are happier. People feel good. That allows me to recruit more students, raise more money and spread the message of the good news of the rest of the institution: academics and research, facilities. It goes a long way. And also the fact we do it the right way. Our student-athletes graduate and I would argue we have the best coach in the country because he teaches them so much about life. It’s a winning formula.”

This “winning formula” would be fouled if schools were forced to pay student-athletes who already receive “extraordinary benefits” and are not good enough to be paid in the open market.

Economically, many schools are already losing money on athletics.  A study by The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Huffington Post found that public universities pumped in more than $10.3 billion in mandatory student fees and other subsidies into their sports programs during a recent five-year period.  My article in today’s Des Moines Register details how the new tax laws will hammer college athletic departments.  Institutions of higher learning across America are still struggling to recover from The Great Recession and reduced government aid.  New Federal tax laws will not help.  Forcing them to pay student-athletes will make a bad situation much, much worse.   It will also result in many sports teams being dropped, just as the costs of Title IX saw over 400 squads cut by colleges.

Financially, there is simply no reason to have to pay student-athletes as the scholarships packages provide “extraordinary benefits” well into six figures, and is constantly being improved (cost-of-attendance, fueling stations, trips abroad, family travel to the Final Four et al).  No one turns down a scholarship to graduate nearly $40,000.00 in debt like the average student.  A minuscule percentage of student-athletes are good enough to play in the pros.  For those good enough and with no desire to go to college, there are many paths that have been traveled by teenagers to get paid such as LiAngelo and Lemelo Ball for basketball in Lithuania, Freddy Adu for soccer, and Eric Swann for football.  It can be done if the players are good enough, but very, very few meet that unforgiving test of the free market.  Moreover, a college scholarship provides much more in the way of benefits than many professional players receive, especially in the minor leagues.

Socially, income inequality will be exacerbated at the institutional and the individual level.  A few schools could pay athletes, which would create an unfair arms race with the great majority of others.  But there will be many, many teams dropped.  This is happening already.   The University of Buffalo axed four teams last year.  Power Five Maryland cut seven sports in 2012.  When there are fewer teams, there are fewer scholarships and fewer opportunities for walk-ons.  Many student-athletes are the first in their family to go to college.  With fewer teams and fewer scholarships, there will be fewer being the first in their family to earn a degree thanks to an athletic scholarship.  This is not good for a college, for a campus community, or for a country.

Culturally, it will create a divide on campus between the athletes (the haves) and the average student (the have-nots) graduating with nearly $40,000.00 in debt.  In the class I taught in the fall semester at the University of Iowa, “The Politics of Sports,” the great majority of students opposed paying college athletes for this reason.  Making this even worse is that, as the Chronicle of Higher Education and Huffington Post article detailed took place in the past, schools would most likely increase student fees in the future to pay for the costs of paying the players.  According to the piece, these fees accounted for nearly half of all subsidies and increased by 10 percent.  The presence of agents on campus and a change in role from student-athlete to employee will make it worse.

Taxes will become a nightmare for student-athletes if they are paid.  A major part of the “extraordinary benefits” now received by student-athletes is preferential tax treatment by the IRS.   Count on this being over if student-athletes start receiving salaries.  Tax reform last year hit universities hard, and went after them even harder.  This will continue in the years ahead.  In my interview with Lorry Spitzer, a preeminent tax partner with the blue chip law firm Ropes & Gray, it was covered how student-athletes could be in a worse financial position if they become employees.  If student-athletes are paid, do not be surprised by a new tax burden that includes the value of the scholarship, room, board, et al, not to mention having to file taxes in each state where the team played that year, just as the pros do now!   Not saying, just saying…

Employment law will provide nasty surprises too if student-athletes are paid.  My interview with Mike Phillips, one of the best lawyers in his field and a partner with McGuire Woods, covered many of these, as did his speaking to my class at Iowa.   If an international student is here on a student visa for sports, how can they be paid as an employee, too?  What about Title IX ramifications when figuring out the pay scale: Do you pay the starting quarterback on the national championship football squad the same as the backup goalie for the field hockey team?  Along with more sports agents, count on a lot more lawyers from the plaintiffs’ bar (i.e., ambulance chasers) trolling for business on campus to sue the school for employment claims!

In his farewell address, “The Final Gladness,” to the Georgetown University community, Father James V. Schall, Professor of Political Philosophy at that esteemed institution of higher learning, spoke of how it had surprised him over the decades that so many students would come to ask him why sports were so important to them, but belittled by so many.

To Father Schall the appeal is that, “The game does not symbolize the chaos but the order of things.”  This “order of things” as it now exists for college sports in the United States represents the best that the world has ever witnessed.  The student-athletes receive “extraordinary benefits” in earthly goods and for a higher calling, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (d. 322 B. C.) noted, ” …sport is the closest thing most human beings come to contemplation, to the highest of human activities.”   Furthering the great philosopher’s contention, Schaller stated that, “The closest most people come to pure contemplation is in the beholding of a good game, in being fascinated with the play, the strategy, the uncertainty of its results.”  

Forcing schools to pay athletes will do nothing to further this as it fails every conceivable test: economically, financially, socially, and culturally.


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