Phillip Hazel ‘23
The NCAA has been under scrutiny lately due to its restrictive and inconsistent rules in paying student-athletes. College athletics is a highly profitable industry; the NCAA has an annual revenue that hovers around one billion dollars. Coaches of successful athletic programs are regularly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and the highest paid coaches receive millions. However, aside from scholarships, student-athletes rarely see a cent for their contributions to the reputations of their teams and schools. Considering the figures associated with this industry and the relative lack of compensation for student-athletes, there is room for positive change in the system. Although this discussion can seem like distant news, it has implications for our dear old Davidson, a D1 school that competes in the NCAA.
Rules restricting payment exist, according to the NCAA, to protect the collegiate athletic model. The NCAA values amateurism; they argue the system better protects athletes, and perhaps the most controversial regulation in the conversation is that student-athletes can make no money from their likeness. This could be a legitimate rule made in the name of protecting the names and privacy of student-athletes, except for the fact that the NCAA is allowed to earn money from players’ likenesses. This rule, which benefits the corporation and not the individual, was brought into the limelight after California passed a state law which directly opposed it. This is one of the most extreme examples of backwards policy, but there are many more instances of the NCAA putting itself above the students and colleges that it should serve.
A common misconception that has contributed to this argument is that student-athletes have little or no need for money since they have scholarships. Although many student-athletes are awarded scholarships, they are rarely full-ride, and some athletes receive no scholarship at all. The average scholarship for an NCAA student athlete is $18,000. Considering that the average tuition of public schools is (conservatively) $20,000, and $30,000 for private schools, student-athletes and their families are not as free from financial burden as one might think. Compounding the struggle, athletes have few opportunities to earn additional money to pay for their schooling. Between practice, games, and academics, student-athletes have little time or energy to find and work jobs to support themselves. Furthermore, the Davidson football team competes in a non-athletic scholarship division, meaning that football players receive only merit and/or need based scholarships. There is certainly not a lack of need in the college athletic community for more ways to earn money.
Student-athletes significantly contribute to their schools , and often in ways that can’t be quantified. Large institutions can make over 100 million dollars per year from their athletic programs. Even Davidson College, which lies on the smaller end of the spectrum, rakes in over 11 million dollars every year from athletics, and keeps almost $900,000 in profits. This pursuit would be impossible without the players. The college also benefits from the publicity and reputation earned by the players during sporting events.
The profits made from athletics at Davidson are significant, but it is unrealistic to expect Davidson to start paying its student-athletes, even if the NCAA started to allow it. However, the payment restrictions set by the NCAA do not end with college-to-student transactions; the NCAA does not allow athletes to accept gifts, or even benefit financially from their own name and likeness. Changing these rules could significantly relieve financial burden from players, allowing them to make more of their time at college in terms of both athletics and academics.
There are certainly valid arguments against changing the rules. Not all of the ramifications of the proposed changes can be foreseen, and there is the potential for negative effects. One possible effect would be that athletes would become further estranged from their non-athletic peers and normal college life if they start earning money. It is just another differentiating point between the two that could put student experience at risk. Another idea proposes that the NCAA should put money that the athletes make for them back into schools, offering more scholarships and greater financial support for student-athletes. Although this is a reasonable middle ground, the NCAA has not yet demonstrated any serious commitment to fixing its exploitative nature.
All of this said, the NCAA has some responsibility to loosen its grip on the abilities of student-athletes to make money. The organization could continue to operate normally, even if it made changes to its rules to allow student-athletes to earn more.