Nothing brings a family together like a college football game, whether you’re cheering for your favorite team, rooting against that one school you can’t stand, or just watching because it’s what everyone is watching. The rivalries are intense, the traditions are sacred, and—for entirely non-religious reasons—Saturdays are the holiest day of the week for many devout fans. Behind the fight songs, color commentating, and multimillion-dollar coaching contracts, there is one often-neglected group at the core of the culture that makes all of this drama possible: the players. Without the players, there would be no games, yet they remain the only unpaid party. Announcers, coaches, and advertisers are all paid handsomely; in fact, according to an ESPN study, the highest paid public employee in a majority of states is either a college football or basketball coach. Still, the most crucial components of the college sports equation are working in conditions that some even call slave labor.
Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to ask that college athletes be paid salaries of any significance, considering the athletics budget of the average university is considerably smaller than that of a professional team. Furthermore, although football programs typically generate more revenue than other sports programs, they are not the only teams that would need to be compensated. In most cases, paying college football athletes would also mean paying every other varsity athlete on campus, from the track stars to the fencers. Not only would this task be extremely taxing on the athletics budget, but it would also harm the non-athletes attending the school. To accomodate the salaries of the athletes, the athletics budget would balloon, diverting money away from valuable academic programs. Ultimately, a university is an institution for learning, and, while sports programs are great ways to provide opportunities for athletes and build school spirit, they should not be prioritized at the expense academics.
Although it would not be wise for universities to start treating student athletes like employees, this does not mean that they should go entirely uncompensated, especially since a significant portion of college athletes live in poverty. A study conducted by the National College Players Association found that 86 percent of college athletes are living below the federal poverty line, and scholarships do not do nearly enough to aid students financially. Not only do not all students receive scholarships, but scholarships also leave students responsible for the cost of room and board, books, and other expenses. To help mitigate this widespread issue, students should receive a portion of the millions of dollars generated from advertisements and merchandise sales. To maintain amateur status and comply with NCAA rules, college athletes cannot sell or market their likenesses, names, or jersey numbers, which is entirely unfair to players. The NCAA and universities can profit off the hard work of student athletes while the athletes receive nothing and continue to struggle financially.
College athletes are the backbone of sports programs, which both generate revenue and bolster school pride. They deserve to receive part of the money made from advertising and merchandise sales, even if it is unrealistic to expect college athletes to receive a steady salary or wage. In order to support the athletes who support their colleges, student athletes should be compensated.