Ending The Exploitation Of College Athletes

A hotly debated topic in the world of sports these days is the value or consequence of player benefits in the NCAA. As someone who currently works in graduate admissions – who has experience with undergraduate admissions, financial aid and student athletes – I like to think I can offer a unique perspective on this subject.

Student-athletes need and deserve to receive a stipend for their services.

In my working experience, student-athletes are the members in a college community of whom the most is expected. They are leaders on campus, end up being some of the most active figures in the alumni base, and are expected to achieve a higher GPA than their peers – all while attending study hall, training sessions and in-season events not required of fellow students.

A fact often overlooked (or possibly unknown) is that many athletes are among the first in their families to attend college. They are also among the most financially needy on campus. Many come from single-income or subsidized income homes, yet are unable to hold jobs because of their additional extracurricular obligations.

Student-athletes are some of the biggest revenue generators for universities, all without being paid. Think about it: when you attend football, basketball or baseball games you pay for tickets, concessions, and more often than not (especially in football) merchandise. Even away from the game, you might purchase a jersey with Tim Tebow, Jameis Winston or Jadaveon Clowney’s name on it. Apparel companies benefit; the university benefits; and the conference benefits. But guess who doesn’t: the student. Millions of dollars pour in on student-athletes’ names and abilities, yet not a dime goes to the student. That is unjust.

The time is long past due to provide college athletes (both male and female) with a stipend. It’s not fair to idly watch these students scrape by, often unable to work to pay for simple expenses, while others profit from their abilities.

Yes, there are people who will point to the Reggie Bushes, Cam Newtons, and SMU players from the 1980s who say, “These players are getting paid anyway.” While that may be true in certain cases, the fact is that many more students play by the rules both on and off the field. They set an example for their peers, are unfailingly polite to faculty and staff, and work to represent their schools in the best way possible.

I know this from experience, folks.

Yes, it is true that these students have most, if not all, of their tuition and room and board covered. However, I can recall many times – both as a student and even as a faculty member – covering the charge for an athlete at a bar, nightclub, or movie theatre because he or she didn’t have the means. That is unconscionable. College is as much of an experience in the classroom as it is out of it, and these students are being shortchanged due to their extra obligations and a set of antiquated NCAA rules.

Something must change.

A great way to begin a stipend program would be to have a fixed amount – say $1,000 every semester – for all the athletes of all the teams across campus. I say all sports teams because A) that is the right thing to do regardless of popularity and attendance, and B) Title IX requires it. The money would then be distributed on a monthly basis to a bank/debit card issued by the university, to be used for extra meals on campus, or at various food and entertainment venues around town.

Limit the amount it can be used for. Limit the amount of withdrawals on the account. Monitor where the student-athletes are spending their money – much as you would for a child with his or her first checking account. Schools can offer student-athletes classes in money management (something I think the general population agrees is sorely needed for ALL college students). Universities can promote and, wait for it, teach healthy spending habits.

As an added bonus, any student-athletes who end up on the Dean’s or President’s List, or earn Academic All-American honors, could receive extra compensation. Say an extra $1,000 for the next academic year if they are freshmen, sophomores or juniors, and a $1,000 Wal-Mart or Target gift card for graduating seniors. This not only rewards, but also incentivizes athletes to perform as well in the classrooms as they do on the field.

It can be done, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s time to give student-athletes a reward for their hard work and leadership. It’s time to allow them even just a touch of the true college experience. Anything less and you let the people capitalizing off these hard-working kids continue profiting by way of exploitation.

The inequity must stop, and the fairness must begin – let it be here, let it be now.