College athletes should be paid for their hard work


Caroline Lazarus

I believe that college sports as we know them will end.

The opportunity cost for a player to partake in such a flawed system is simply too high. Yet is there another way around it?  Take the essence of college athletics and place it into another realm for an instance:

You are the boss of a construction site. You employ the workers who physically work the machines, build the projects, etc. You give them benefits, and included in these benefits are housing on site, and a meal plan that covers breakfast, lunch and dinner at specific hours of the day (regardless if their work schedule interferes with these pre-determined hours). Not included is any other money for personal spending.

From an outsider’s perspective, this is unfair on every level. Surely the construction workers would recognize that rather than working such a tight job, they could use their skills elsewhere and have a better quality of life.

When you get a job, you are expected to do it, and in return you are paid for your skills. This has been a basic human practice since the dawn of time. You are rewarded for the skills you provide.

Athletics, now more than ever, are centered around money. If you’re on the team, you can’t have a job to make money. With the top college teams making close to 100 million dollars, none of that goes to the players directly. For the amount of work, time and energy they put in and all the rules and regulations that confine them, this cannot be worth it for the players. Yet with 6% of high school athletes choosing to participate in college sports in the NCAA (as of August 2014), all these rules and limitations must be worth it, right?

The phrase “student-athlete” is used all too often to describe nothing more than “athletes who occasionally attend class.” There are college athletes out there who never have to go to class, never have to turn in assignments, and can still have a GPA high enough to play. These kids are not getting an actual degree. They are recruited by the school to do one thing and one thing only: to play. They are promised an education, and are forced to skip class after class for games, practices, lifting, and chalk talks. Needless to say these athletes are jipped.

The economic motivation behind all this is that the students are not bearing much—if any—of the responsibility or earning any of the rewards for their choices. Another organization is: the universities. The university has very different motivations than each individual player therefore, causing their incentives to misalign. This creates bad outcomes such as players slacking off, et cetera. This is a simple principal-agent problem. The principals are the universities, and the agents are the players. Each has different incentives: the university wants to make money and generate publicity, while the players want an education (in most cases), and potentially make it to a professional league. If the agents are receiving an education no matter how well they perform in the upcoming game or match, what motivates them to play well?

Similarly, why would the players work hard, if the universities get all the riches? Paying players would certainly re-align these incentives better, so that the players are being rightly compensated for their hard work. Similarly, the NCAA would have less of an opportunity to abuse the players.

Going to college is an argument within itself regarding opportunity cost. Does one spend the time and money (usually 4 years, and approximately $70,000), or just go out into the world and try to find a job, hopefully earning enough to live on. Rather than losing 4 years and $70,000, you would start earning money right off the bat. On the other hand, going to college is supposed to be an investment, and therefore you could potentially make more than you would had you not gone to college in the first place—in other words, its worth it.

If college athletes were to be paid, the incentives of each party would be re-aligned. The universities would have the motivation to make money and generate publicity, and the players would have the inventive to play well and work hard in classes. Although these incentives are not the exact same, they both produce the same outcome: performing well on the field and in the classroom. Which, indirectly produces both fame and wealth. Briefly, my proposal for paying college athletes is as follows: My proposal to reform college sports would be to create a stipend system. Where students who put in the work to support their school—making money and “glory”—can get compensated in a realistic way. Whether it is 4% or 10%, a percentage of the revenue each team brings in should go in a fund to support the athletes outside of the sport and outside of the school. Finally, there will be compensation for students who perform well in school and on the athletic field. If they graduate in a certain number of years, they have access to this escrow fund with a sum of money in it. This follows a basic task-reward system, on which so many practices are built today. This would also fix and re-align the incentives of the principals and agents. Though my solution has many flaws, I think it addresses many problems with the current system, and provides realistic solutions to them.

I think everyone, as Jim Delany puts it (commissioner of the Big Ten Conference), needs to “give up the ruse, and pay the players. After all, everyone seems to be making millions off the athletes, except the athletes.”