Reform in the NCAA: Compensation of College Athletes

Reform in the NCAA: Compensation of College Athletes


College sports tournaments attract a lot of attention. This led to the commercialization of matches by the NCAA and individual colleges. Businesses are also collaborating with these event organizers by selling broadcasting rights and airtime for advertisements during broadcasts. The NCAA promotes the sports industry, which is worth over $11 billion (Eldeman, 63). Despite this, college athletes are not compensated enough. While they put in a lot of effort in their respective sports, the NCAA just use their images to make more money. The term 'amateurism' is often used to defend this kind of exploitation. The effort put in place by the athletes, the benefits derived from the activities, and other factors necessitate the fact that they should be paid. This paper discusses the under-compensation of these students and how their images are used in the sports events. It would also cover difference presented in courts relating to the topic. Though the plaintiffs have valid reasons to complain, the courts have always ruled in favor of the NCAA. However, this have recently changed. There are now cases when college athletes won. The knowledge of factors affecting the under-compensation of college athletes is important in developing a solution that would initiate possible reforms in the NCAA that aims to reward students for the glory and honor they give their respective schools through their sports.

Why College Athletes Should Be Paid

In order to justify the compensation of student-athletes, the reasons should be highlighted. According to Mans (36), college athletes spend around 50 hours per week training and playing their respective sports. Graduate assistants, on the other hand, spend only a few hours performing their duties. Ironically, the latter gets paid well while the colleges and the NCAA do not compensate the students well. Despite the broadcasting rights and authority on the intercollegiate athletics being vested on NCAA, the schools limit their budget on the various sports. This is to ensure that the right allocation is acquired from the regular school funds, wherein costs of college athletics such as player transportation, accommodations, and coach payments are taken (Schneder & Messenger, 805). The NCAA and the colleges do not allocate the funds to meet the needs of the athletes. Considering that they already provide additional funds to their respective schools, their compensation should be commensurate to this.

The NCAA and other colleges use amateurism to maintain low compensations. College players must maintain the amateur status to continue participating in the events. This means that the players cannot lay claim to the financial benefits that NCAA and the colleges get from the events. However, the most disturbing element of this amateur status is the absolute control that the colleges and their coaches have on the lives of these players, unlike the professional players. They limit activities related to external employment, usage of personal vehicles and communication with the media. Traveling off campus is also limited. Activities in social media are moderated. This encourages the players to focus on the athletic events once they become part of the college teams. Compared to professional athletes, these players actually undergo a stricter discipline in playing their sports. The athletes are also strained since they have to compensate the time lost due to the athletic activities and catch up with the rest of the students in their academics. In order to maintain this control, NCAA and colleges must practice amateurism among their athletes. Leroy (477) notes that these students recognize that they are like employees of their respective schools. This is in conflict with their amateur status. The lack of professional treatment is advantageous to the NCAA and the colleges. Currently, the players’ labor rights have not been defined, and this is what creates crisis when cases pertaining to this issue are brought to courts.

The legal implications are bound by the interest of the colleges to excel in athletics. This is the reason why there is an increasing number of exploitation among these athletes. Most athletic departments claim to subsidize the expenses of student players (Samson, 127). However, these are usually given to the coaches and support staff. The student-athletes only receive a fraction of the expenses. In one extreme case, the University of Texas spent nearly $50 on remunerating coaches and support staff while expenditure on scholarships totaled to around $9 million. This clearly demonstrates the parity between the treatments that the players are given compared to that of the professional people. This includes the coaches and the support staff. Most institutions will only target the amounts spent on scholarships to subsidize their expenditure. Despite this small amount of subsidies, the colleges want to ensure that they increase the number of student-athletes in their teams and that these players put in more hours of practice. Competition for best coaches leads to the increase of expenditure in this role. The price of sports equipment also keeps on rising. The schools spend on these expenses instead of focusing on the compensation of student-athletes. This would make their organization more attractive to possible applicants. The large amount of costs spent on a lot of things other than compensation leaves the educational institutions with no choice but to minimize their spending on the personal needs of players.

Despite the huge costs, some of the expenditures still go to the students. Some of the college athletes are beneficiaries of sponsorships of the colleges through the games departments. These sponsorships mean that the colleges forego fees payment from these players who in turn give back to the colleges through their participation in athletics. For one to qualify for sports sponsorship, they must exhibit exceptional skill and talent in their respective athletic activities (Schneder & Messenger, 807). However, some individuals become members of the college teams before they show this exceptionality. These athletes may never have an opportunity to benefit from the sponsorships given through the sports departments. Most of these scholarships are used to lure individuals into joining the respective colleges. Once an individual becomes a member of one institution, it becomes hard for them to transfer to institutions that offer scholarships. Even if they successfully transfer to these institutions, rules put in place by NCAA will require them to stay as students in their new colleges for a given minimum time before they can be fielded. Athletes consider this minimum period as detrimental to their career and will opt to stick to their respective institutions. Therefore, the NCAA requirement of minimum stay only favors institutions at the expense of the players.

The NCAA made a lot of polices but failed to realize that the importance of a player is subjective. There are members of college teams who are not recognized as being exceptional, but their contribution to these teams is significant. While exceptional players are granted scholarships and other benefits, these other players will often make efforts to ensure that they are included in the teams. When finally included in the teams, they make efforts to ensure that these teams win, and the coaches retain them in future. The contributions of these athletes, however, seem to be ignored since they do not benefit from the same amount of compensation that other exceptional players get.

NCAA’s Use of Player Images to Generate Money

The exceptional player mentioned also get unfair treatments by the NCAA and the other colleges. Many corporations such as Coca-Cola and Adidas have utilized sports personalities to inspire, persuade and inform people about their brands through individuals such as Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan respectively (Elliot, 254). Therefore, attention to sports personalities had become a very expensive commodity that capitalists use to earn money. Television companies have also joined this trade where they broadcast given sports content that draws the attention of many Americans. In turn, many people watch their channels. This attention is then sold to corporations who purchase airtime to inform, inspire and persuade viewers on their products and services. The companies also generate income through television sponsorships. The students of the various colleges in the NCAA can be considered as celebrities and has the right to also earn from the mentioned firms. Television companies have turned to college athletics since the individuals that participate in these events are upcoming stars and are likely to feature widely in the club and professional athletics. NCAA, therefore, sells broadcasting rights to the TV stations who then show the events to their viewers. Some corporations also choose to sponsor the events by donating sports kits, equipment and funding some of the activities that were initially under the organizers. It is stipulated that the costs saved due from these sponsorships may remain unaccounted for. Eldeman (69) observes that NCAA members have become increasingly wealthy in recent years. This may be related to the money they get from their celebrity athletes who do not receive enough compensation.

The Nature of the NCAA

Despite making billions out of the efforts of the players, there are questions on whether the NCAA and other organizations involved in organizing college athletic events need the large amounts of money made from commercializing the events. Samson (133) notes that the Pac 12 conference receives about $7.5 million from selling broadcasting rights to ESPN and Fox Sports. Instead of being used to improve the very events that generate it, it has been channeled to other expenditures. The schools were not worried about making any losses. This has caused the assumptions that the institutions which organize the college athletic events do not require large amounts of money. This led to misappropriation of funds. In other instances, a portion of this is given as an award to the winning teams. Once this money is given to the institutions, they engage in impromptu expenditure that may often lead to misappropriation. These institutions may direct this money to purposes such as buying educational equipment or funding other activities that are not related to athletics. The organizations should consider reverting this money into the very events that generated them by remunerating the players to enhance competition.

NCAA’s Use of Amateurism to Defend Non-Payment of Collegiate Athletes

The NCAA controls the remuneration of student-athletes. It requires a student to avoid using their own images to make money for themselves. If they violate this, they would not be allowed by the NCAA to participate in college athletics. Aside from that, their respective schools can also exclude them from their teams and prevent their participations in events. According to Leroy (503) NCAA sports are an integral part of college life and students participate in them as part of the general educational curriculum. Exclusion would be a bit harsh.

The importance of the NCAA be implied by its historical evolution. Before television coverage, the debate on whether college athletes should be paid or not did not exist. The commercialization of the different sports led to this argument. There is now a debate on whether student-athletes should also get a part of the revenues. Initially, the concept of commercialization was introduced to protect the college athletes from exploitation and create a fair competing grounds (Goodwin, 1277). Amateurism is built on the idea that athletes are college students and that they do not play to be paid. NCAA insists that education should be the priority by college students (Goodwin, 1281). Their sports affiliation should only come next after academics. In this light, the students can neither enter into contracts with professional teams nor get salaries for their participation and engagement in athletic events where professional athletes are involved. They cannot get committed to a certain agent.

Aside from the prohibition of the students to engage in any kind of professional activities related to their sports, NCAA also mandates the full-time collegiate enrollment of student-athletes. They can not become a member of any team if this is not fulfilled. These are just two factor that correlated the concept of amateurism to the college players. Modifications of the rules are being pushed by some sectors to protect the welfare of the student-athletes. However, the NCAA is firm in their stand. For the organization, amateurism is only defined according to the scope of which a student can earn compensation.

A keen look at the aspects that define amateurism reveals that salaries are not the only way to ensure that college athletics is fair. Colleges can attract good athletes through incentives such as scholarships. These scholarships have monetary value. NCAA can do away with the two amateurism requirements that are related to money and still see to it that the status is maintained by putting in place stringent measures and punishments for people who are against the rest of the regulations. Karcher (171) notes that amateurism had merely been used as a way of granting the colleges the control and the rights to the broadcasts by selling the coverage as they wish. Though they make money out of these events, one cannot classify these as economic events. Most of the resources used by players are only allotted for their academic needs and not to their roles as athletes. Amateurism is therefore used as an excuse to deny the student-athletes the benefits of their efforts.

Through the concept of amateurism, the NCAA and other conferences made money through the efforts of the students. This is evident in the court cases wherein athletes are denied compensation because of the rulings that they are not real employees of their respective schools. This is despite the efforts that they give in bringing glory for their educational institutions through sports. Leroy (506) notes that college students spend 43 hours per week on athletic activities during the football season. The same subjects under study were reported to spend an average of 38 hours per week on their academic work. This could be used to eliminate the misuse of amateurism that NCAA uses to negate any kind of compensation for the college athletes.

Court Cases on Payment of College Athletes

Most court cases on this issue have something to do with the concept of amateurism and the compensation of college athletes. In the past, NCAA and other sports conferences prevailed in these cases. However, a recent trend where some athletes win in the court cases means that amateurism is disputable. The law can be revised to allow input from both the sports organization and the athletes. Myles Brand, a former president of the NCAA, once noted that forbidding the students from the use of their identity creates an impression in the general public that they are mere entertainers just like in the virtual fantasy world (Beaman, 90). The students do not seem to have a right of control over themselves as athletes. Most of the court cases have involved students trying to gain access and control over their identity as college athletes. This has prevented them from accessing the benefits that the colleges and the sports organizations have withheld by denying their identities through the concept of amateurism.

The identities of students have also become the topic of some cases. For instance, Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA) has been a defendant in two cases were college football players requested for court action concerning the use of their identity by the video game player (Bearman, 91). This could be the reason NCAA terminated its contract with EA Sports that involved use of player names by EA in its video games (Grimmet, 831). However, there is usually a legal crisis whenever these cases are brought to courts since the students do not own the right of using their identities as athletes.

The identities of the students as college athletes are also being used by educational institutions for monetary gains. This is evident in a one of the cases. A Northwestern student recently went to court claiming that he and his teammates dedicated their time to events that enable the schools to make billions of dollars. The student, therefore, needed the courts to classify them as employees so that they can have the right to negotiate for compensation by the school (Leroy, 477). The courts do not have a definite formula for defining labor right in these situations. Since students have realized that they are unlikely to win court cases by citing their involvement in school activities, they changed their strategy and have now resorted to presenting cases on failure to meet educational costs, failure to warn on the likely occurrence of concussions and compensation for head and brain injuries.

Leroy (489) notes that the reason the courts are reluctant to intervene in the affairs of NCAA I the students' voluntary association. The bylaws of the association are therefore treated as a contract between the athlete and itself. Due to this situation, courts have favored their rulings for the NCAA in a majority of cases.

Solution to Paying Athletes

Due to the nature of most cases involving college athletes, Bearman (107) proposes that a law should be created to compel NCAA to establish an escrow fund using money generated from the use of student’s identities. The NCAA can then avail these funds to the students after completion of their studies. Therefore, the students will not be distracted by the celebrity status but will concentrate on their academics. Also, the student-athletes will abide by the rest of NCAA rules to ensure that they do not lose their entitlement to the funds. This suggestion would bring fairness to the college sports. Rather than being paid as regular employees, the athletes can be paid per game. Alternatively, NCAA, colleges, and other sports institutions can consider increasing the prizes awarded to the teams depending on their level of excellence in the athletic events. These incentives are not only part of the athletes’ rightful entitlement but can also be used as motivating factors to ensure make college athletes work harder in sports activities.


Both college and professional athletes work hard and spend a lot of time training and participating in sports events. The difference appears when NCAA separates the college athletes from their identities using amateurism as a requirement for their continued participation in the sports events. Though amateurism was initially created to protect the college athletes and establish a fair competing ground, it was corrupted because of the commercialization of college sports. NCAA has made attempts to gain access to the money generated from the identity of their college athletes through court cases. In most instances, courts have ruled for NCAA as the latter maintains that the events are part of the college curriculum and athletes are not entitled to payment. However, it is important that we reverse this and allow college athletes to be paid from funds generated using their identity as this will also act as incentives for them.