Should College Athletes Be Paid?

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As I watch my beloved Syracuse in their last Big East tournament, and look forward to the Big Dance, I thought it might be a good time to tell you about a couple of things that annoy me about NCAA basketball:

The first thing: It’s ridiculous that the players aren’t paid. I know this debate is so old it’s a cliché by now, but it’s fresh in my mind. Because I recently had lunch with a young man who was a star college basketball player last year – and he asked me if I had any part-time work that he could do. He needs money.

Collectively, this young man and his fellow players have been earning the NCAA and colleges billions of dollars - and most of them never see one red cent of it.

I know the arguments against paying the players:

“You can’t pay some teams, like basketball and football, and not others, like swimming or field hockey.” I say: Why not? When those sports make billions, pay those athletes, too.

Other people say: “How would you decide the pay scale? Would the starters make more than the backups? Would salaries be uniform?” I agree, it gets sticky here. But just because it would be difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried. The system is already not fair. Don’t tell me we can’t tweak it because we risk making it unfair.

“They’re amateurs. They’re students. They’re not professionals.” You’re making me laugh. Amateurs don’t earn billions. And true “students” aren’t forced to go on road trips and to long practices in lieu of studying all night. Student-athletes are somewhere in between those two labels. Let’s stop playing make-believe and acknowledge that difference.

The second thing that annoys me is how so many underclassmen leave school early to go to the pros. That sounds like a contradiction to my first complaint, but bear with me.

The reason many of them leave is because they were never “real students” to begin with, and they want money to support themselves and often their families. Some of this would be taken care of if their colleges paid them.

But here’s another thing: many of the guys who leave early for the pros - because they want that big paycheck - end up broke in a few years anyway. 60% of NBA players file for bankruptcy within 5 years of retirement. It’s 78% of NFL players!

See, that’s why I think these guys should stay in school – at least 3 years. It’s the same concept as when I said it’s better to earn your fortune than win it in the lottery. Staying in college longer would teach these kids more about responsibility, and money itself, and generally, how to be real men. Staying in college would help them learn how to correctly utilize the millions they'll earn.

People argue these guys should get to start their careers ASAP because they might get injured and never get to earn the big bucks. But we should be just as concerned about how long those careers will last, and how long these players will be able to keep their money. It seems to me that these athletes will be better off in both of these respects the longer they stay in school.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m gonna be watching and living and dying with March Madness just like everyone else.

But big-time NCAA sports are clearly broken. And the NCAA shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

It’s time to make some changes.


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