Should college athletes get paid?


Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison (2) drives to the basket past Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright (11) in the NCAA championship game on Monday night. Connecticut won the game. (Eric Gay/AP)

The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is over: The University of Connecticut beat Kentucky, 60-54, for the 2014 championship. The debate whether college basketball and football players should be paid, however, is just beginning.

A government official recently ruled that the football players at Northwestern University are employees of the university — not student-athletes, as the colleges and National Collegiate Athletic Association claim. As employees, the players have the right to form a union and bargain over their working conditions.

Some people think that if the players can bargain over their working conditions, they will want to be paid, just as professional athletes are. And this may change college sports forever.

The courts, and maybe even the Supreme Court, probably will decide this issue.

It’s important to remember a few things. First, only football and men’s basketball are money-making college sports. Most others, such as field hockey, wrestling and swimming, do not attract big crowds or make big bucks. So if all college athletes were paid, the money would probably come from football and men’s basketball programs.

Second, college athletes already are given something valuable. A full football or basketball scholarship to a school such as Northwestern is worth as much as $250,000 over four years. The colleges also provide the players with expert coaching and medical care, as well as the opportunity to get an education.

Still, it’s not surprising that the football and basketball players may want to be paid. After all, they are just following the example set by their coaches and colleges in these big-money sports.

John Calipari, the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, makes $5.5 million a season. That’s almost 14 times the amount made by the president of the United States.

Calipari is not alone. Seventeen college football coaches and seven college basketball coaches make more than $3 million a year. The coaches, it seems, want to be paid.

The players also have watched their schools do almost anything to make more money through their football and basketball teams. The colleges schedule more games and tournaments every season. Weekday games are now televised, bringing in more money.

The players have seen their schools leave behind traditional rivalries, such as when the University of Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference after 60 years to join the Big Ten. Why? You guessed it. The new conference gives the school a chance to make more money.

I don’t know if paying the players would make college football and basketball better or worse. But I do know that the colleges and coaches should set a better example for the players by not being so greedy.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 18 sports books for kids that combine sports fiction and sports history. His latest book is “Perfect Game.”

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