There are many problems facing the sports industry today. Each organization has its own unique challenges, and college sports is no exception. Whether or not student athletes should be paid has been a long debated topic, and it has once again been thrust into the spotlight by the ongoing legal battle of Northwestern University football players. Last week, the National Labor Relations board ruled that Northwestern football players on scholarship should be considered employees of the school and have the right to unionize. Even though unionization grants very few rights to these athletes at the moment, it is a step towards achieving their ultimate goal of being paid to play. However, it would be in the NCAA’s best interest if these ambitions fail. Paying student athletes has the potential to financially ruin universities and completely change college athletics as we know it.
The number one question that comes to mind when potentially paying student athletes is: where will the money come from? It certainly will not be coming from the revenue already produced by college athletic departments. Even though college sports bring in millions of dollars a year , they are quite expensive to operate. In 2012, only 23 out of 228 athletic departments at D1 public schools generated enough revenue to cover their expenses for the year (Berkowitz, Upton & Brady). The other schools cover their expenses by taking subsidies from student fees, institutional support or state funds. It has been widely suggested that schools pay student athletes by issuing them a monthly stipend of $1,000-$2,000 dollars a month. When you take into consideration that most institutions have more than 500 student athletes, this has the potential to cost a school somewhere between $6 million and $12 million extra a year. Out of the 23 schools that were self-sufficient in 2012, only six of them would still be able to take a hit of $12 million.
Schools would be forced to compensate financially by increasing ticket prices, slashing non-revenue athletic programs and asking for additional subsidies from the school itself. These subsidies from the school would likely come in the form of raising tuition, cutting employee salaries and reducing academic scholarships. The bottom line is pretty much everyone loses except football and men’s basketball players. Paying them even a small stipend has the potential to escalate into a much larger financial crisis. It would inhibit fans’ ability to attend games and cost thousands of other students a chance at an education. Colleges already pay for their athletes’ tuition, food and lodging, shouldn’t that be enough?
The problem of paying student athletes is unlikely to ever be solved in a manner that would satisfy all parties. Instead we’ll just have to put band-aids over the issue. One way to do this, would be by creating an emergency fund for student athletes. Schools should set aside a portion of their revenue specifically for athletes desperately in need of money. This fund could be used to cover injury expenses or help an athlete’s’ family in need. Secondly, schools and the NCAA should consider allowing student athletes to profit from their likeness. Players should be given a share of the revenue when their school sells their jersey in the bookstore or when they are used in a video game. It does not have to be a large share, but just enough so athletes do not feel exploited. This system may promote inequality, but it is all a part of the capitalist system. A handful of star athletes create revenue for the school and should be able to pocket a portion of it. These small changes could quiet the naysayers and still allow schools to operate effective athletic programs.