New Year, Same Debate: Whether Or Not To Pay College Athletes

January 2nd, 2018 | by Jonathan Yates
New Year, Same Debate: Whether Or Not To Pay College Athletes


There is an enormous, simplistic allure to paying college athletes.  

Revenues are in the billions, coaches can make millions, so why shouldn’t the players get a couple of thousand a game?  Like anything with a profound specious appeal (peak oil, citizen’s arrest, socialist economics), the attraction of paying college athletes quickly collapses under the unyielding forces of reality.  Not only is there no practical basis for this, there is every reason not to pay those playing varsity sports in college.  

The main one is that if schools are forced to pay athletes, it is the players who will suffer on every score.

Emotions are so strong about this issue that a detachment from reality has resulted.  According to Len Elmore, former NBA player and ESPN commentator with a Harvard law degree, athletes now receive “extraordinary benefits.”  An article in Forbes detailed how a college athletic scholarship can be worth well into the six figures annually.  Joe Parker, the Athletic Director at Colorado State University, recently pointed out in an interview that each player costs $110,000.00 in his department’s budget.

The average pay for a Colorado state employee is $882 a week, or just under $46,000.00 a year, more than 50 percent less than a single player tolls the athletic department annually at Colorado State University, with this $110,000.00 cost equal to the net income from 3-4 civil servants.

This chart more than makes the point, although it compares the amount of after-tax dollars needed to pay for tuition, room, boar, books, et al with gross income, so a scholarship is worth even more:

value of college scholarship in after tax dollars: more than $150,000.00

average college administrator salary: $58,561.00

average instructor at 4-year public institution: $50,436.00

single adjusted gross income in USA: $34,940.00

average for 16-19 year old in USA: $21,944.00

minor league baseball starts at $13,000.00

The scholarship is also based on purchasing with after-tax dollars, the net income of an individual. From that, the value of a college scholarship is even more in the way of “extraordinary benefits.”   This results from the salaries listed on the chart are gross income, or before-taxes, which is a hit approaching 50% (income tax, property taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, et al…).  

That means it would require about $300,000.00 in gross income to pay for the value of a college athletic scholarship with $150,000.00 in benefits utilizing the net income after taxes to pay the freight for tuition, room, board, books and much, much more!

Despite these and many more factors, there are still those in the sports media who claim that athletes are “indentured,” “exploited” and should be paid, even though it is proven beyond an incontrovertible belief that only a small percentage have the skill set to play in the major leagues (and they have the freedom to leave whenever they want).   If college players were to be paid, income inequality would be exacerbated as there would be fewer scholarships, fewer opportunities for walk-ons, and the gains from Title IX for female athletes vitiated, for much the same reasons.  The American Olympic squad and those from other countries would suffer too from fewer college athletes being trained while on scholarship.  Moreover, professors, administrators, and the average family have much less in annual income than the value of a college athletic scholarship at present (which will only continue to rise, count on it.)  Those playing in the minor leagues can only dream (or sue) for the same treatment that scholarship players receive from a university in the United States.  

This is also the same sentiment for the non-athlete student who graduates from college in America nearly $40,000.00 in debt, according to the latest figures from Student Loan Hero.

Around the world, millions are now expending massive amounts of time and treasure in every way imaginable in hopes of winning a scholarship to play sports in college in the United States.  The “exceptional benefits” from these scholarships would require the entire net annual incomes of many workers (as demonstrated by the Colorado comparison.)  At the same time, parents are thanking coaches, athletic directors, and others in America for allowing their children to continue to play a sport that they love while earning up to three degrees as players have done while on scholarship, all while graduating debt free from the best institutions of higher learning the world has ever known.  This is why no one has ever turned down an athletic scholarship for college to instead graduate nearly $40,000.00 in debt like the average student in the United States.

Most import of all, it is why college athletes should not be paid!

Jonathan Yates About Jonathan Yates
Jonathan Yates spent much of his career working for Members of Congress in a variety of press and legislative posts. Positions he has held working for Members of Congress and state legislators include Chief of Staff, General Counsel, Legislative Director, Press Secretary, and Legislative Assistant. His journalistic work has appeared in such periodicals 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). Jonathan also hosts The Culture of Sports You can follow Jonathan Yates on Twitter at @politicsports13

Comments are closed.

The nightcap
The Day's College Athletics News
To Your Inbox Tonight.