Pay for play: NCAA athletes deserve compensation

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For years, college athletes have defined what it means to be an amateur in sports. But as the scope and scale of the NCAA have exponentially grown, the student-athletes have also become more elite. So, the question has been raised: Should college athletes be able to receive compensation for their efforts on the field?

This week, the trial regarding the pay-for-play scandal in college basketball began. Coaches from Arizona, USC and Oklahoma State are charged with conspiring with agents and sponsors to bribe recruits to come to their respective schools.

This scandal that erupted and shook the NCAA is a direct consequence of star players not receiving payment for their work. It should be a wake-up call for the NCAA — if it doesn’t address the problem soon, similar situations will continue to occur. Clearly, these athletes are already thinking beyond their college careers and have their eyes on where the money is.

It’s only fair — these student-athletes are, for the most part, working full-time jobs while also attending school, and they should receive more than just tuition and basic necessities in return for their major contributions to their teams and universities.

For the players who these coaches were courting, getting to the NBA was the ultimate goal. Beyond basketball, the same goes for the other top sports such as football and baseball in which the best players each year are simply using their time in college as an unpaid stepping stone to get to the professional ranks.

In 2018, Texas led all football programs by generating more than $160 million in revenue. Many other top programs such as Alabama and Ohio State also easily cleared the $100-million mark.

Those teams are full of players who are set to make millions in the NFL, but for now, their efforts primarily result in profit for the schools they represent. Through ticket sales, merchandise and sponsorship deals, these big-time athletic programs are reaping the financial benefits because of the performance of the players.

As freshman sensation Zion Williamson is set to leave Duke and become the presumed No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next month, he will receive a huge (and well-deserved) payday. But Williamson did not receive any compensation during this past season when he won national player of the year honors and led the Blue Devils to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In the meantime, Duke will profit off of Williamson’s short stint in Durham for years to come. Since Williamson arrived, Duke’s presence in the media has skyrocketed, and Duke’s social media presence is valued at more than $5 million. Undoubtedly, Williamson’s spectacular play is the main reason for the spike — fans want to see and know what he is doing on and off the court.

Only a small subset of NCAA athletes would be affected by any policy change in which athletes would be able to land endorsement deals and other outside opportunities. But, given the disproportionate landscape of the NCAA and its revenue, the athletes who have the potential and talent to make money deserve to do so.

Yes, colleges are providing these young people with excellent educations, but the student-athlete experience has evolved. The demands of everyday life as a student-athlete have increased just as the media coverage and competition in college sports have also grown.

If the ongoing investigation is any indication of where the direction of college athletics is going, then the NCAA should prepare and make the applicable changes to prevent any further issues. For now, players who should have every right to seek out profitable opportunities they have earned will be forced to continue to fend off temptations in order to adhere to the rules.

Charlie Griffen writes the Tuesday sports column about the evolution and current trends of college athletics. Contact him at [email protected].