Colleges simply cannot afford to pay athletes (even if they could, the system would still fail)

While the flame continues to burn on the debate over whether colleges should be paying their athletes, one has to wonder how a system could possibly be implemented. We can keep debating about athletes’ rights and I would probably agree with anyone who argues in support of athletes’ rights, but we have to understand that the list of differences between colleges and professional sport leagues is so long that you really cannot even begin to compare the two.

In professional sports, I think it is safe to say that the main goal and purpose of the team is to generate revenue. While some may argue that the goal of college athletic departments aren’t too much different (and it is obvious that colleges are blowing smoke when they try to argue that they treat student-athletes the same as the rest of the students), one cannot say that college athletic departments are a totally separate program unrelated to the school. If the school did not exist, neither would the program.

Here are some questions to think about when it comes to paying college athletes:

I think the first question that needs to be asked is the obvious one — how are the schools supposed to afford these players? Sure, some big schools such as Ohio State may be able to afford to pay players but the smaller schools could never begin to imagine coming up with the money to pay their players. In a story for Forbes, Kristi Dosch notes that only 14 programs in the NCAA are turning a profit.

Also, wouldn’t you need each school to be paying their players somewhere near the same range of money? Each major professional sport league in the United States has a minimum salary requirement and each team in the league pays their players around the same amount of money. Of course, the Yankees (average salary $6,756,300) pay their players more money than the Pirates (average salary $1,338,000), but the gap between those salaries really is not that wide when you consider the fact that a player has plenty of upward mobility with free agency to receive a lucrative contract based on the performance during their last contract. In college, students could transfer to a school with a better program, but the purpose of transferring isn’t the same as free agency so it wouldn’t be as simple of a task. Paying players would also eliminate most competition since schools could easily buy the best players (although that isn’t exactly anything new in college athletics).

So how does college football differ from pro baseball (30 teams) or football (32 teams)? 32 teams in pro football vs 119 teams in Division I college football is a number that should jump out at you right away. The fewer teams there are, the easier it is to keep them all under the same general control. When you have too many teams, it gives room for error. Another difference is that even the worst NFL teams have players that were some of the best college athletes in the country, obviously good enough to be in the NFL. The worst Division I college football programs don’t always have some of the best high school players. Some schools, such as Ivy League schools, have student-athletes with no intention of reaching the professional level in their respective sport. If they did, they wouldn’t be attending the best academic institutions in the nation. These players may enjoy getting paid but they would only be paid to play sports for the four years that they are eligible and wouldn’t be getting paid beyond that like students from other schools who would be going pro upon the conclusion of their college career.

Another point worth noting is that there are many semipro leagues, particularly in football, that do not pay their players. These players play for free and they actually are paying to play because they are required to pay for their own equipment. If semipro players don’t always receive money, you would think they would have to be getting paid before college athletes begin getting paid.

There are just a few of the reasons why paying college athletes just wouldn’t work. Perhaps in the future, somebody will come up with a system that works better, but I really don’t see how it could work. I understand where people are coming from when they argue that student-athletes should be getting paid, but people really need to look at the bigger picture and understand that it won’t be happening anytime soon.


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