This fall, when you sit down to watch a college football game, you’ll inevitably notice the sweat pouring down players’ exposed necks, the colorful outfits of diehard fans and the vibrant logos of school sponsors. What you won’t see are the sacrifices that those athletes made to perform at a nearly professional level for no paycheck.
College athletes in the United States face a demanding schedule and are unable to take full advantage of the academic opportunities in front of them because of their athletic commitments. Allowing students to earn compensation through the use of their name, likeness and image would provide a unique learning opportunity that would make up for their lost time in the classroom and the risk of injury on the field. California Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, is paving the way for student athletes in the state to earn compensation and serves as a model for future legislation and regulations for college athletics programs.
College athletics has become a billion dollar industry as schools generate hundreds of millions of dollars from their teams and donor support surrounding the programs. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) generated $761 million dollars just from its 2016-17 Division I “March Madness” tournament alone. The NCAA has publicized that such revenue goes toward bettering student athletes’ academic and athletic experience through ensuring adequate funding for meal plans, school resources and health insurance.
Yet, at large Division I schools, only a small percentage of the profit from a successful sports program touches a student athletes’ financial account. Instead, most of the cash gets divided amongst coaches’ six-figure salaries, facilities maintenance and the university itself. There is enough cash flow in this industry that providing collegiate players with substantial compensation from third-party deals wouldn’t shatter the NCAA and universities’ pocketbooks. It might actually bring more attention to the school’s program and have a positive impact on the perception of college athletics since the players will be gaining more external recognition.
While the NCAA and Division I schools bolster the ways in which they help athletes to thrive academically, many student athletes must choose between academic success or a starting position. The 2015 Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in College (GOALS) study, conducted by the NCAA, found that Division I athletes spent an average of 34 hours per week on their sport, an increase from the 32 hours reported in the 2010. The 7,252 Division I student athletes surveyed also disclosed that they spend the same or more amount of time on athletics during the offseason, and many athletes also spend 38.5 hours per week on average on academics. Those time commitments nearly equal two full-time jobs. Given these time constraints, it is difficult to see how an athlete could be able to excel in both areas.
California’s SB 206 gives college athletes the chance to learn about business outside of the classroom. The opportunity to earn compensation through the use of their own likeness, image and name can introduce them to the world of professional representation, brand-building and ethical business decisions that offer new opportunities for learning. And for student players who come from low-income backgrounds, academic scholarships alone do not assist them with their families’ financial situations back home, but third-party compensation would alleviate their economic hardships. Especially as some student athletes choose to cut their university time short to get paid in the big leagues, third-party compensation could actually incentivize more to stay in school longer.
California’s actions will not impact enough players but will help spur national reform. Instead of state by state legislation, Congress should pursue national legislation that would maintain fairness when players and recruits choose which university to attend. College students and universities should petition for this change by creating social media campaigns that inform the public about this much-needed financing, and ultimately pressure Congress to create legislation that allows college athletes to receive proper compensation. Providing college athletes the opportunity to earn extra income from third-party partners would not shatter college athletics as we know it. The high chance of injury and time spent away from the classroom decrease the initial value of participating in collegiate sports; however, compensation increases the benefits of taking on these risks for student athletes.
Ciara Murphy (21C) is from Belmont, Mass.