Last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a group of football players at Northwestern had the legal right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining, reigniting the age-old debate about whether or not college athletes deserve to be compensated. Daily Trojan sports columnists Nick Selbe, Will Laws, Darian Nourian and Nick Burton as well as Sports Editor Will Hanley gave their opinions on the complexities of the issue regarding paying college athletes.
Q: Do you think college athletes deserve to unionize?
Nourian: I don’t believe they have the right to unionize because, at the end of the day, they are student-athletes of the university, not employees. Players unionizing to collectively bargain calls into question the aspect of amateurism among these athletes and jeopardizes the integrity of college athletics. These players were initially recruited to play for their respective schools and represent their colors loud and proud, while receiving a discounted and quality education simultaneously. This is an opportunity that is rare and not given to everyone, so student-athletes should take advantage of it and embrace their four or five years, rather than trying to “change the game” by forever altering the scope of college athletics.
Burton: I’m torn. My first reaction is sure, why not? They work very hard and really do have some extra responsibilities from “normal” students. I do not think they should be paid, however, and I do believe unionization sets us down that path.
Hanley: Absolutely. Even if you feel that NCAA athletes should not receive salaries for their play beyond a scholarship, you can still accept their unionization. According to the National College Players’ Association’s website, the group has five goals. Interestingly, as Jason Kirk of SB Nation notes, not one of these goals mentions salary for play. Most of the union’s goals deal with keeping college athletes medically and academically sound, areas in which the NCAA is seriously lacking. Because of the limitations of even a “full” scholarship, many former college football players are left out in the cold when dealing with post-career injuries. All the union seeks to do is improve the lives of these student-athletes in basic areas.
Q: Do you think NCAA athletes will receive some form of compensation in the near future?
Nourian: No, just simply because it’s not feasible or possible. Like in professional sports, there are big markets (big schools) and small markets (small schools) and there is no universal dollar amount that will make all schools happy.
Burton: First of all, a full (or partial) scholarship is a fairly significant form of compensation in and of itself. At USC, the value of a four-year full scholarship is probably in excess of a quarter-million dollars. In the near future, I don’t see that changing.
Laws: Yes. The Ed O’Bannon case was one of the first big steps in casting a poor light on the NCAA, which has created a unique situation for itself. The extensive media coverage of college athletics rakes in millions of dollars for the NCAA — but it also has created high-profile personalities out of athletes who were not compensated for their accomplishments in college. Pro-reform advocates and former student-athletes such as Jay Bilas now have enormous platforms on ESPN and other broadcast networks to reveal the hypocrisy of the NCAA and pressure them into paying the college athletes of the future.
Selbe: I think that NCAA athletes deserve the freedom to pursue their own personal interests outside of payment from the schools. Players should be able to receive payment for game-used jerseys, tickets or having their likeness used in video games. Punishing players for selling things that belong to them doesn’t seem right to me.
Q: Do you think college athletes should receive additional compensation, aside from scholarship benefits?
Nourian: I’m all in favor of additional or increased stipends to student-athletes since their job is basically playing varsity athletics and they don’t have time to partake in a separate money-making job. I feel that this would be beneficial in allowing students to make a better and more comfortable living while at school.
Selbe: I don’t think schools should have to give athletes more than a scholarship. When people advocate an increase in pay for college athletes, they mostly point to the huge profits that schools make on athletics. But this profit comes almost entirely from football programs (sometimes men’s basketball), and these profit-making programs fund all other athletic programs. I don’t think that schools should have to pay more for athletes of programs that cost the school money in the first place.
Hanley: I do, to an extent. A large portion of the obscene amount of money that a university makes from its athletes should be allocated to beefing up the medical and academic resources given to those student-athletes. The question of whether college athletes deserve a pure pay-for-play system, however, troubles me. Whatever its limitations, and there are many, an athletic scholarship is an incredibly valuable resource that should not be taken lightly. At a private school like USC, the monetary value of a full scholarship is $184,000 in tuition alone over four years. At a public school like Arizona State, a four-year full scholarship would be worth $40,000 or less in tuition. I can’t say I’ll ever really know if a college football player deserves more than this for their play.
Q: If so, would some athletes deserve more than others?
Nourian: No, this is exactly why it’s not plausible to actually compensate athletes in the first place. All athletes would have to receive the same benefit or stipend should the system be considered to be fair and nondiscriminatory.
Burton: This is actually the very reason I don’t believe college athletes should be paid. It would be logistically impossible. If some make more than others, it’s unfair. If everyone makes the same amount, that is also unfair.
Laws: I don’t think so. That could create a hyper-competitive culture within college teams that just wouldn’t feel right among the “purity” of college sports. If college athletes are to be paid for attending a school, they must receive the same amount. And if they’re going to reap the royalties from profits gained from jersey sales and other merchandise that use their likeness, I’d think that there would have to be some sort of revenue-sharing system created to make sure that there’s not any animosity between star players and their lesser-known teammates. Otherwise, the benchwarmers who are still living paycheck to paycheck could grow to harbor feelings of jealousy and inadequacy compared to the big-time players that might have just caught a lucky break where they didn’t.