Is it Time We Pay Student-Athletes a Salary?


April 10, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013


Pay the man. Now.

Adrian Peterson, the superstar running back for the NFL Minnesota Vikings is making news again. This time it’s not for carrying the ball for 2,000 yards or so or for blowing out his knee. Nope, this time he’s carrying a message not a pigskin, and it’s targeted to all NCAA head-honchos.

His message? Time to pay up!

Specifically, Mr. Peterson argues that for the millions of dollars stars like Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) generate for his school as he (AP) did while playing for Oklahoma they should be paid a salary or at least share in the profits. Pure and simple says Peterson.

Johnny football

I got a van loaded with cash with my name on it. No worries here.

Ah, but really now, is there anything either pure or simple about collegiate athletics these days?

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Maybe that will help us navigate the playing field better.

The top schools, and I mean the real NCAA Division I powerhouses do generate some serious cash from their sports programs. And the Lion’s share comes from Men’s Football and Basketball. The University of Alabama certainly roll in a tidal wave of cash each year. In 2013 it was over $142 million dollars. One of the “lower” cash generating big-time schools was the University of Oregon and they broke $75 million.

Alabama football

Only a rumor they’ve been asked to pay off the federal debt.

Where does all this money come from you ask?

Ticket sales, donations, sponsorships, fees, royalties, merchandising, advertising, bowl game awards, jersey sales, and of course the almighty television contracts and direct payments.

College athletics is reportedly a $12 billion marketplace today.

Overall, Division 1 and 2 schools provide 130,000 student-athletes with over $2.5 billion in scholarships each year. DIII schools do not offer athletically related financial aid to their sports participants.

On average, public schools gave over $20,000 each year to each of its student-athletes while private schools averaged over $35,000.

Yet here’s the even more unbelievable figure to digest-With the exception of the very top powerhouse schools, the large majority of schools with D1 and D2 sports programs report LOSING money each year.

Holy Johnny Football, how can this be?

Well, the average cost to develop, train and sustain an SEC football player for example is apparently $175,000 per year. Some reports peg the cost at Texas A&M football at over $475,000 per player, per year. That’s a lot of Tex-Mex BBQ.

chihuahua w big eyes

That’s a lot of enchiladas my friend. Where do I sign up to play?

We are also informed that only about 15 public university athletic programs across the nation actually break even or make money directly from their sports programs.

See, didn’t that clear things up nicely?

Not even close.

Excluding major football, basketball and in some more rare instances baseball programs, mostly men though not exclusively, the fact is the majority of sports programs simply cost its school more money than it takes in.

For every Johnny Manziel or Adrian Peterson or the never-ending “one-and-done” b-ballers at the University of Kentucky who generate huge dollars for their school of choice before going pro, there are thousands of genuine student-athletes whose love of sport while in school is being 100% subsidized. And who, let’s be honest, going pro is simply not a realistic option.


Fun but not generating millions of Lacrosse bucks.

In fact, of all those 130,000 student-athletes each year who compete in their respective sport, a very, and I do mean very, small percentage ever turn pro.

About 1.7% of all football players, 1.2% of all Men’s basketball players and 0.8% soccer players land a spot in the pros. Women’s basketball is about the only female sports program with a meaningful percentage and it comes in at 0.9%.

But even for these relatively paltry figures, these NCAA schools serve as unofficial minor leagues for mega-money leagues like the NBA, MLB, NFL and even the NHL. There’s a reason that owners can, apparently, afford to pay their top stars $300 million dollar contracts and still have enough left over to make their Mercedes-Benz payments and heat their Malibu Mansion swimming pools.

football and cash

So, should all student-athletes be paid a salary or share in profits as Peterson asserts or should we just carve out a share of the sports booty for the few superstars at the top of the D1 heap?

Or is it enough that schools pay free rides for these athletes to obtain a degree if they so choose? An option by the way that is fast becoming an obsolete dream of many American kids and their parents.

With the average cost of a 4 year school now hovering at over $100,000 college doesn’t mean getting ready for the big-time NFL contract for the rest of us, it means debt. And lots of it for a lot of years.

Should we just let these few stars like Manziel load up the van with cash if and when they do turn pro, knowing they didn’t have to exactly “rough it” while in school?

Is it really that unfair for schools like Texas A&M to generate cash off of the backs and jerseys of players like Manziel? Does he not get to pursue his dream soon enough? Can he or others like him wait just a bit more before “cashing in?”

Maybe the answer is to end the charade of the “student-athlete” label for the real elite players. Maybe it is time to simply have these athletes simply sign a pay-for-performance contract at the collegiate level and be done with it.

big money

Big money for a big-time athlete. Now that’s American.

But when Mr. Peterson thinks of players like himself and Manziel let’s just be clear, these are the absolute smallest of minorities of all student-athletes.

The overwhelming majority of student-athletes are not generating dollars for their school though it’s hard to imagine much school spirit or pride without them.

Duke U basketball

Without sports we’d look silly. Ok, sillier.

Perhaps the real answer lies outside of collegiate sports. Those mega-money professional sports owners who would not be able to stock their teams without student-athlete programs (unless all our pro sports rosters become completely filled with foreign born players) may need to step up to the money plate.

Yes, Adrian, maybe it’s time the real elite of the elite student-athletes get paid. But maybe it’s the folks at the NBA and the NFL who should be the ones writing the checks. They seem to be really good at doing that already.



72 thoughts on “Is it Time We Pay Student-Athletes a Salary?

  1. Lisa S says:

    I must admit when I first read the title of the article, I thought absolutely athletes should be paid. Once I saw there are schools that break even or have a deficit due to their sports program, my mind changed, slightly. I would question if the schools that do not have profitable sports programs, is that because they have a large number of sports programs that do not make money, but if we looked at the actual budget are their sports departments that are in fact turning a profit. Paying for the students college is great, but there are schools that are making a significant profit. In those cases, I do believe there should be some sort of profit sharing deal for the players. As stated, the chance of making it to the professionals is slim. Therefore, I do believe there should be a finical benefit for athletes that are sacrificing their life for the game. The idea of financially involving the professional teams is great. An idea would be that once drafted, the professional team pays an endowment to the school that the player attended. Also, all college athletes do not receive full scholarships. Schools profiting from the labor of athletes with no fiduciary contribution does not seem like a fair exchange.

    (Gov Bud/Fin)

  2. Andrew D says:

    I must preface by stating that college football is my favorite sport by far and I am a donor and season ticket holder for an SEC football program. I do love the talent that is on the field during fall Saturdays, but I am also aware that many of the players taking snaps have no desire to obtain a degree. Peterson and others want to argue that players should be paid without giving much regard to all players on the team. Sure, players with Peterson’s ability are rare and destined to go on to the next level. What about everyone else? How about the student-athletes that are paying to go to college and tryout for a walk-on spot for the team’s roster. No pay for them, in fact, it is the exact opposite. They are paying college tuition with the hopes that they can get a few snaps in the fourth quarter after the team has secured a win. Do walk-ons workout less than the “star” players? Do walk-ons wear special jerseys that distinguish them from their far “superior” scholarship teammates? Do walk-ons learn a different playbook? The answer is no. They are just as much a member of the team as the scholarship players with the key difference being they pay for things such as room and board, books, classes, etc. (all the things scholarship players are provided free of charge for playing sports at that institution).

    The argument that seems to have been lost in this conversation is that although they may be viewed as minor league, collegiate athletics are a byproduct of a degree granting institution. That is why they are “student-athletes” and not vise versa. However, I am not oblivious to the fact that their college experience is different from the average student. Perhaps it is time to look at a different model for the elite players. The NFL requires athletes to be out of high school for at least three years before being drafted. There is not a collegiate requirement. Furthermore, the NFL does not appear to care about players obtaining degrees. Otherwise, why not raise the entry requirement to four years post high school?

    Perhaps it is time for the wealthy NFL owners to develop a true minor league football program. Elite high school athletes with no intent on attending college could be recruited in the same manner that current collegiate recruiters select high school talent. Players of Peterson’s caliber would then enter the “farm team” system and obtain compensation. Meanwhile, the true student-athletes would have a greater opportunity to obtain funding for a degree while playing football. Imagine being a walk-on player in the current system who is taking out student loans to pay for a degree that you will one day use to be a productive member of society while some of the scholarship players seem to waste the opportunity that they have been provided. The walk-on player may take years to pay back the loan while the scholarship player could walk away free and clear after three years.

    Perhaps an education is not such a bad thing. I recommend that sympathizers of the collegiate pay for play model watch ESPN’s 30 for 30 film “Broke”. What does it say when 78% of retired NFL players are bankrupt or under severe financial stress? Would paying them even earlier solve the problem? I don’t think so.

  3. M. Martin says:

    I’ve had this discussion with many people concerning paying college athletes who are on scholarship (averaging $100,000 for four years) and receiving free fridge benefits (e.g. medical care, opportunity to travel), not afforded to many citizen desirous of an education. The reality is that few student athletes are so polarizing that their jersey would sell or their performance consist enough to demand a high salary. What professional athletes like Adrian Peterson don’t consider is that the 12 billion dollar generated by NCAA athletics only represent a fractions of the money necessary to fund 2.5 billion in scholars for 138,000 student athletes and the operational cost for each program. Most of the student athletes will not go pro (e.g. 1.7% of Footballer, 1.2% of basketballer), according to the article “Is it time we pay student-athletes a salary” by Greg Rabidoux. They will benefit from the college education which experts purport will earn them twice as much as a high school graduate over their lifetime. They will benefits from networking with staff and alumni, social and cultural enrichment from activities through the university, and mature.
    What message are we sending to college students who struggle to find the funding for their education and send years after graduation paying off debt for opportunity to earn a reasonable salary? How about the academically inclined students who represent the elite scholars in their field but received little or no scholarships because schools are offering them to athletes instead? What of the band members, cheerleaders, equipment managers, and smaller sports athletes whose scholarship make college attainable? How about the pay scale? Would the star players and the beach (practice players) make the same salary? Would the student employees pay for their education, medical, insurance, travel and lodge, food and fitness, and other current fridge benefits? How about taxes? Professional athletes must taxes in each state their play. Would each student athletes be required to hire a private account? Could the school fire the student-employee for poor performance or under performance? Adrian Peterson mentioned profit sharing but most schools report a deficit and depend on public funds. No, student athletes could be satisfied with earning a college degree and networking during the short collegiate career.

  4. Brandi S says:

    I don’t think that Student- athletes should be paid salaries while they are in college. I think the should not be paid because they get enough benefits while they are in school. Some of them come into the school on full ride scholarships and free room and board. If they should get paid so should everyone else. As regular students we have to strive and work two and three jobs to make ends meet while trying to earn our degrees. Athletes really have no problems because all of their expenses are paid for as long as they run that pigskin. I don’t think its fair for them to be paid because everything is given to them don’t make it worse for them to show boat even more by paying them to play ball while other students are living off ramien noodles. You must remember to be a student- athlete you are a student first…. They are there to receive an education just like everyone else so they should be treated as such..If they play ball really well that is fine and dandy but let them make their money when or if they go pro because trying to make them stars and rich in college is only giving me a headache and higher tuition rates… Give the regular students a break with this non-sense please……..

  5. Jacki G says:

    College athletes should NOT be paid a salary. I played softball and basketball in high school and loved it. Was a I good enough to get a full ride to a college? No way. Did I work any less hard than many of my teammates? No not at all. Sometimes I put in more effort. At the end of the day, many elite athletes have innate talent that others will never acquire. I am not saying that athletes don’t work hard- I know very well that they do, but I do not think paying college athlete salaries is a good idea in any way. I am not sure if all colleges are like this but the college I attended had a huge football program and the team was very successful. I had a few classes with many players and rarely were they in class. Instead, they had someone sit in an take notes for them. I understand why this is necessary, because the athletes have to put in the time to practice and travel and play in games, but paying a salary when they don’t even attend class is insulting to students who are working 2 and 3 jobs to pay for not only living expenses, but tuition as well (and attending all classes and/or being held accountable for being absent). Attending college and playing collegiate sports is quite a feat and requires dedication and determination. However, attending college and working 2-3 low paying jobs may not be as physically exhausting as playing sports at the college level, but it is just as mentally exhausting and is physically tiring as well.

    I had no idea that college athletic programs actually lost money each year due to costs of funding athletes. It would be ridiculous for schools to be more in debt to pay their athletes money. To be honest, I think many college athletes are overfunded. I don’t think a few student loans are such terrible things and might even teach athletes (and others) how to budget money in the long run. I am sure the athletes who receive scholarships are grateful, but endless funding of money instills the mentality that things will always be handed to you. It is important to learn to value the cost of a dollar because most of these athletes will wind up working real jobs anyway and not playing at the pro level.

  6. Gerald J says:

    I read some where recently that the annual cost of tuition at most division one schools has risen, due to Universities funneling a disproportionate amount of funds toward the sports programs (which are cash cows themselves.) I wouldn’t go as far as to say student, athletes should be paid, but I do acknowledge the amount of money they generate for the Universities.

    Honestly, I see education (if in the right area) as an investment. However, it is up to the student athlete to recognize the value of a free education on an athletic scholarship. Truth is, many football players who attend college on an athletic scholarship, chose to major in the whatever sport they play. The preceding statement is not meant to be taken literally, but it is to say that student athletes tend make school secondary on their lists of priorities.

    Although it is not verbalized, football players major in football, basketball players major in basketball, and so on… A few athletes may realize the slim chance they have at going pro, and opt to take advantage of the free ride by picking a major that would qualify them for a career.

  7. Thomas R says:

    I am torn on this subject. Part of me wants to say yes they should be paid, and part of me doesn’t. Major college athletes, especially in the sports of football and basketball, bring in millions of dollars a year to their athletic program. I understand they get college paid for and this and that. But if you are an athlete and your jersey number is being sold in stores, why can’t you receive some benefit from this. Or any other merchandise for that matter. I heard of an interesting way one time to help with this scenario. Develop a fund and place a set amount from merchandise sales into the players account and let them have it after college. Would this be a way for athletes to take advantage on what they’ve earned? What if they have a career ending injury in their last game of their Senior year and they are a lock 1st round pick. They’ve made millions for their school and now they receive no money professionally for what they’ve accomplished as an athlete. You could talk for days on this subject and I don’t think there will ever be a good enough answer. Another problem would be regulating this. Would track and field athletes or swimming athletes be able to get paid too? Chances are they are not making as much money as the major sports. But are they any different? I don’t think so. That’s where it gets tricky. Also you have to factor in the different levels and sizes of schools. Not every school is big and bringing in millions. These are all factors to consider.

  8. Autron H says:

    I’m wadling into deep stuff. This is a subject that is not easy. The first issue that is related to this controversial item is that the cost of paying for a college education these days is very expensive.Many students who are even on a full scholarship still have a hard time paying their way thru school. Students will find ways to pay for school and survive at the same time.On the other side is if the students are paid for playing college sports, what is the rational for going into the major or pro leagues?

  9. J. McVaney says:

    I do not think that student athletes should be paid because more often than not, all the work off the field that coaches, teachers, boosters (at colleges that have them), and administration do a lot of work for those student athletes. I played Division II soccer at a small college and was a part of the SAAC committee that approved new regulations and sent in new ideas for changes. Student athletes already get so much that paying them would most likely mean that athletic departments and colleges going bankrupt themselves after a few years. Already in the state of Georgia, Colleges and Universities are having to consolidate in order to save money. A lot of this comes from administration perspectives but athletics is still a big part of the discussion when these types of things happen. You hear about programs being terminated all the time, a majority of that time it is a Men’s program being cut unless the college/university has an over abundance of Women’s sports. Many Division I players might be discussing the “paying student athletes” option but I know the topic was shut down by an overwhelming majority at the NCAA DII conference multiple years in a row because we as players are not playing for money, we are playing because we love the game/sport and want to be competitive while working towards our future. The NCAA commercials say it right, a large number of us student athletes go pro in something other than our sport.

  10. Laurie S says:

    I do understand that it is very hard for many student athletes to go to school full time, play a sport and work a job for extra spending money. With that being said, I do not think that universities should be paying student athletes. The universities already pay for many of these students tuition, lodging, food and medical. On the flip side, I do believe students should be paid for the use of their name or image in merchandising. If you want to sell their jersey or put them in a video game, then you should give them a percentage of the profit that you make from them.

  11. Kendria S says:

    If we start paying college students to pay sports, then, what is the point of having professional leagues? Students are recruited to enhance the athletic programs on college campuses. Their incentive is normally a free education, free room and board and a stipend. I know this because I work in the central accounting department for a college.

    If the concept of student athletes being paid to play was realistic, it would eliminate and create a lot of penalties. Students could be subject to self employment tax? I doubt a college would want to pay them and provide benefits too. associated with being a college player. Currently, these students are not supposed to receive financial assistance through any means other than their scholarship provisions. We hear countless times in the media and in movies about players who have received “gifts: before even going to school. I understand their perspective. There is risk associated with playing in college. You could have an injury that would prevent you for ascending to the next level of your athletic career. Why not get all you can on the level where you are?

    We have to ask ourselves what paying student athletes would do to the integrity of college sports. Colleges make a lot of money from their athletic programs, but if they start paying students, how would the programs continue to be sustained? Athletic booster clubs and alumni support? I believe the pay-for-performance model is best left on the professional level. College should be an opportunity for those students who have the potential to play professionally to earn a degree and learn how to manage the money that they could potentially earn in the future.

    • LMC says:

      I think it’s such a tricky subject because while I agree with all you said about protecting the integrity of college, colleges also profit HUGELY off of college athletics. Where is the balance and ethics? I don’t think there’s an easy fix answer, but it’s certainly good topics that I wish were discussed more at these flagship universities with big-time sports teams.

  12. valdostaphil says:

    Yes. Graduate assistants are often paid tuition, living stipends, room and board, and even qualify for employee health insurance and/or I believe in the case of some states even have some unions and/or collective bargaining rights. One could make the argument that the role graduate assistants fill on campus is much more directly related to the institutional mission than organized athletics, but even graduate assistants are still largely treated like indentured servants for the marketable services they provide and work they complete, and they’re treated way better than the athletes most of the time, with perhaps the notable exception of men’s athletics with big NCAA TV network contracts like men’s football and basketball. But those are only a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of NCAA student-athletes. The others are generating revenue to some degree too. They’re employees, and its time the man got his boot of their throats and respected worker’s rights, not the almighty profit margin of the NCAA and the major conferences.

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