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Should College Athletes Be Paid

College football is no longer just a sporting venture away from the rigorous everyday classroom work. It is no longer just an extra curriculum activity that students engage in for the purposes of relaxing. Today, it is a booming business. It drives the economies of many towns and literally runs universities. Many universities with serious football teams have been able to sign mega deals with television networks which have been accompanied by billions of dollars. While the debate surrounding whether or not college athletes should be paid rages on, the money that is being generated continues to increase. Perhaps, the important question to ask is why those who attract this money should not get a share of the same. Those who argue against the payment of college athletes usually claim that it will go against the moral goals of these institutions, which is success beyond the field and into the classroom. To my view, this argument could not be further from the truth. In this paper, I hold the position that college athletes deserve payment by the university they play for (Griffin 50-55). 

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That college football has become a booming business is beyond debate, and that it brings billions of dollars for universities is similarly beyond any doubt. The debate surrounding the payment of college athletes continues to rage on even as the profits from college football continue to grow. The increasing interest of the television industry in college football has continued to raise the stakes of this sporting game that just a while back was regarded as an extra curriculum activity. While the priority of each and every university is to produce an individual who has succeeded in the academic arena, there is no denying that success may also lie in sports and athletics. The common characteristic of every footballing team in every university is that most of the student players are usually on scholarships for sports and education; thus, a common argument against the payment of student athletes is that they are already compensated for their efforts. This is indeed a compelling argument; however, it is an argument that fails to take into account many other issues (Smith 20-30). 

The meaning of a college athlete is that the person being spoken of is a student who has a given talent in a specific sporting activity. The individual is therefore a student who plays in a university team and thus not a professional athlete. The emphasis here is placed on the fact that being a student priority, it is placed on the pursuit of academic excellence and anything else done in the course of this pursuit is deemed to be part and parcel of the academic venture. Indeed, this argument is premised on the position that every learning institution has a moral responsibility to pursue academic excellence and anything else appurtenant to this pursuit is considered a necessary component of the goal. Those opposed to payment of student athletes therefore stand on this ground firmly, asserting that payment of a student for engaging in a school activity is contrary to the goals of learning. The insist on the fact that the concept of a student athlete needs not be confused with that of a professional athlete, who is entitled to payment for his or her endeavors. For them, understanding the context from which a student emerges to become an athlete in school is important for the sake of promoting the goals of learning institutions. They therefore argue that payment is given only to those who have taken athletics as their only source of income and specialized in that given sporting activity at the exclusion of all other sources of livelihood such as studying for a different career path. For this reason, students will not qualify for payment by virtue of the fact that athletics is not usually their only source of life but rather just a sporting event that they take part in whenever they are free (Arnold 339-345).

While the above arguments present sound reasons for not paying college athletes, they completely fail to take into account the current state of affairs in college football. Examining the growth of college football all over the country today, it will be difficult not to see a case for the payment of the individuals who are vital cogs in the development of the same. In arguing for the payment of college athletes, a number of areas need to be clarified.

Firstly, it should be decided whether college students are the employees of the college. This is perhaps one of the most compelling arguments for the payment of college athletes. The definition of a college athlete was invented by the National Collegiate Athletic Association as a reaction to the 1953 case of University of Denver vs. Nemeth, in which the Colorado Supreme Court had defined a football student at the University as an employee within the meaning of the Colorado Worker Compensation Statute. The NCAA decided it was proper to come up with a definition of a college athlete in order to escape the duty that accompanied the tag of an employee under the law. Consequently, in determining whether the relationship that exists between the university and student athletes is that of employer-employee, one will lead to rely on the common law test of control or right of control that is used to make this determination. Under the common law, the right of control standard assesses the degree at which the employer controls the lives and work of the employees including the manner in which they may perform their work (Jozsa 66-72).

The National Labour Relations Board gives the definition of an employee as that person who enters into a contract of hire with another, agreeing to perform certain services for him subject to the control or right of control, and in return of payment. The control test also examines the financial independence of the employee. In determining whether a student athlete was an employee of the college, the NLRB developed two tests in the decision in Brown University, where it stated that first, the student must be performing the services at the university in connection with the studies, and second, the relationship between the student and the university was predominantly academic rather than commercial.

Relying on the above facts, a careful assessment of the lives of college athletes reveals a glaring reality of an employee who is not being paid the market wage for his or her labor. Firstly, the level of control that the colleges and universities exercise on their college athlete students is so extreme that these students literally do not have a private life. They are monitored around the clock, and every event of their lives is controlled by their athletics departments and coaches. They are required to put in a given number of hours into practice sessions every day, and failure to meet such requirements risks your spot on the team. Similarly, they are not required to take lessons that interfere with practice sessions meaning that all afternoon classes are prohibited for such students. Colleges and universities which are members of the NCAA have an agreement that students who are on scholarship shall only be limited to tuition, accommodation and transport, and no other financial support will be deemed necessary. This is a clear example of control and right of control being exercised by the colleges and universities on these student athletes.

Similarly, in assessing the second test in the Brown University decision that the relationship between the student and the university should be predominantly academic and not economic, the majority of the student athletes are rarely required to attend their classes. While it is true that such students usually graduate and are given degrees, their primary responsibility is to participate in the athletic competition; failing to do so, they will risk their scholarships that are not renewed. It is therefore a commercial relationship that exists between the student athletes and the university, and not academic. Consequently, having shown that the student athlete is an employee of the university, he or she is entitled to the competitive remuneration that is representative of the amount and value of work that he or she gives to the university. The classification of such students by the NCAA as “student-athletes” participating in an amateur competition is simply meant to shield the universities from the legal responsibilities that accompany the definition of one as an employee.

The second reason as to why the college athletes deserve to be paid is firmly linked to the value that they present to the universities. Today, there are some institutions that are purely run on the profits obtained from college football and even basketball. Every participant involved in these games does not walk away empty handed with the exception of the very people that are the creators of such entertainment. Preparing and actually playing in some, if not all of these games comes with a heavy burden and risk to life and limb, and as such, these athletes must be paid (Fort and Winfree 90-95). 

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While indeed the case for paying the college athletes is a compelling one, there is need to come up with a proper strategy of achieving the same. The proposal that this paper presents is that universities and colleges could come up with a compensation scheme dependent on the contract of individual college athletes lasting for the period of the academic course that the student is undertaking. The universities can open a general account meant for the “student-athletes” compensation; it is this account that the university will be depositing a given amount of money as agreed between the two parties in the contract of services. Therefore, firstly, there is a contract between the university and the “student-athlete” stating that a certain amount shall be deposited in the general account of the athletics every year that the student represents the university. This amount will be released on the student where there is a crucial need and when the student has finished his or her academic engagement with the university (Fort and Winfree 90-95).

This proposal may bring in different issues such as the determination of the amount of money, the control of the account and why not give the student athlete the money if that is the intention. Firstly, the amount to be deposited will depend on the value that the “student-athlete” adds to the team. As a student’s reputation grows, so does the amount payable to his account. This is premised on the notion that these are largely the “student–athletes” who attract big media networks that come along with mega money deals; as such, these students are entitled to have a fair share of the money that comes in.

Secondly, the control of the money paid to students is meant to achieve two goals. In the first instance, the control is meant to maintain the relationship between the university and the student as academic as possible, so that while the student is assured that he or she is being compensated fairly, he or she is able to concentrate on studies without having the distraction of riches. In the second instance, the money is primarily meant to cater for the needs of the students in cases of injuries and other emergencies without burdening the university.

Thirdly, the money will not be given to students directly in order to preserve the moral goal of the university which is to pursue academic excellence and not commercial activities. In this way, the student remains a student but offering extra services to the university by dint of his talent, and the same is appreciated through reasonable and fair compensation. It is also meant to ensure that the relationship between the student and the university is not purely contractual; it is rather founded in academics but extending to a specific contract (Lussier 256-260). 

In conclusion, there is no denying that the games that take place in universities and colleges today are not just games anymore but rather business activities. It is therefore only fair that every party that participates in such a business activity should per take of the profits that result from the sweat of his brow.