If the NCAA won’t allow colleges to pay student-athletes, athletes should be allowed to pursue other sources of income

STATE ISSUES: Universities make billions of dollars off of the unpaid labor of student-athletes. This has to stop.

Football player working at a desk
Alexander Hong/Staff

Last week, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced SB 206 — otherwise known as the “Fair Pay to Play Act” —  which attempts to combat poverty among college athletes by protecting their right to receive compensation from outside sponsorships. Four-year universities that receive an annual average of $10 million or more from athletic media rights would be required to allow their athletes this opportunity –– and it’s about time.

Athletes generate revenue for their campuses and, therefore, deserve compensation. Currently, the only form of compensation that student-athletes are allowed to receive is funding in the form of scholarships to cover the cost of attendance. The NCAA has claimed that allowing monetary compensation beyond scholarship would undermine the “integration of academics and athletics in the campus community” — a ridiculous claim to make when student-athletes’ intensive schedules already perpetuate this divide. How would depriving athletes of compensation alleviate this systemic failure?

Covering only these basic necessities harms these athletes, many of whom experience poverty. The National College Players Association and Drexel University Sport Management found that between 2010 and 2011, 82 percent of surveyed full-scholarship athletes who lived on campus were surviving at or below the poverty line. Denying these athletes the ability to financially support themselves leaves them with few alternatives.

Despite the NCAA rule that athletes should only partake in athletics-related activities 20 hours per week, student-athletes spend significantly more time than this on athletics – the NCAA found that in 2015, Division I athletes on average spent 34 hours per week on athletics. Unlike many other students, who can get jobs to support themselves in college, student-athletes aren’t allowed the luxury of time to work another job – their sport is their job.

Student-athletes are promised an accessible education, but that notion is precarious, as they struggle to graduate at the same rate as the general student population. A study conducted by the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina showed that “revenue-producing” male athletes earned their degree at a rate of nearly 17 percent lower than other male students. If the NCAA truly wants to integrate student-athletes, then it should focus on their academics and well-being.

Universities make millions of dollars from these students’ labor yet provide them with little in return, essentially commodifying them. From 2011 to 2015, NCAA regulations denied male basketball players and full-scholarship football players about $6.2 billion in fair market compensation for their work, according to the Drexel University study. Universities are not only robbing these athletes of earned compensation but also of a holistic college experience. This can ultimately close doors to future opportunities, especially considering that less than 2 percent of student-athletes go on to become professionals.

College athletes have brought in billions of dollars to campuses — some even risk their lives to play their sports. These students are forced to compromise on academics and financial stability to support their campus. They deserve fair compensation for these sacrifices — and if the NCAA won’t allow campuses to pay student-athletes, it should, at the very least, permit athletes the right to be compensated through sponsorships.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.