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When Did the ‘Athlete’ Outrank the ‘Student’?

The On-Going Debate Over Whether Student Athletes Should Be Paid

By: Jacqueline Schaffer


Credit: Market Watch

I am not known among many to be well-versed in the world of sports. Nor am I particularly skilled in athletics, or keep track of any certain teams (besides the Florida Gators of course). However, I have been following the stories of college athletes and the debate over whether or not they should be compensated for their roles. This topic serves as a deeper analysis of the prioritization of athletics over academics in colleges and universities.

A field I feel far more deeply connected to is film. Netflix’s release of their original film Untold: Johnny Football, had no initial appeal to me, but I decided to watch it after I heard how much of an impact Johnny Manziel had on college football. The doc tells the story of Manziel’s rise to fame and his career as a college and professional athlete. What made the biggest impact on me was the numbers.

Credit: CBS Sports

It was nothing less than mind-boggling the amount of money Texas A&M University made during the duration of the quarterback's time on the team.

According to the doc, the university made $37 million in media exposure, greatly due to Manziel’s rising stardom.

I don’t think I have to say that this is a massive number. The film continued to delve into how Manziel came to find ways to make his own money off the fame, as generating millions for his university brought him no more than a free education, publicity, and a plethora of mental health issues. This is when my curiosity for the subject began to climb.

Credit: Statista

In short: in July of 2021, there was a Supreme Court Ruling against the NCAA, “the organization ended nearly all its restrictions on what athletes could earn from the use of their names, images and likenesses, an amorphous category that has become known as N.I.L.” (Schoenfeld) It seems obvious if an organization is going to use your face or name for their own economic goals, it only makes sense that you are compensated for it, right?

Reflecting on the statistics above, it can be observed that many universities are profiting millions of dollars solely on their college football teams. Additionally, NCAA coaches have been earning salaries well into the millions for several years now (The Athletic). This evidence encourages the perspective that the schools are grossing greatly from the athletes' efforts, therefore it is only right that they are fairly compensated.

Credit: Medium

The other side of this argument leans heavily on the order of the name itself: “Student athlete.”

Student. Athlete. There is a reason student comes first.

Many would argue the NCAA’s long-standing rules against paying their players are due to the fact that they are, at the heart of it, students. Most are on full-ride scholarships to their universities where they train at top facilities and are exposed to possible professional recruitment.

I spoke with a college student who is an avid fan of Florida Gators football and holds this belief.

“I don’t think college athletes should be paid. It causes players to lose integrity in the game. They’re driven by a paycheck, not by the sport.”

Besides the perspectives of the actual players, we must look at who is driving them to prioritize sports: the coaches and universities. “UNC offered a “no show” class for student-athletes (where students received grades for phantom classes that they didn’t attend), and Syracuse allowed academically ineligible athletes to compete.” (Time) Authority figures making athletics their most pressing matter convolutes the title of 'student-athlete', being a student is no longer a matter of concern anymore, generating income for the school is.

If the universities aren’t concerned about academics, why should the athletes be?

Student-athletes should be granted the opportunity to exercise their talents and compete for their schools without sacrificing their academic futures. I believe the perspective of this argument should be shifted from "Should the students be paid?” to “How are we preparing these student-athletes to be successful in the future outside of an athletic career?”

There are countless stakeholders in this debate: the universities, the governing bodies of collegiate sports, the athletes themselves, and even the athlete's families. Due to those who are impacted by this situation, it is essential to recognize that the welfare of students should always be the determining factor of a university's decision. Regardless of the differing opinions on this argument, the safety and education of students should be prioritized above all else.


Jacqueline Schaffer is an Online Editorial Writer for Rowdy Magazine.


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