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DebAte-T-Q: Should College Football Players Be Paid

Ok, let's start this off with some simple context.  Right now the NCAA is mired in some pretty decent sized scandals with what has gone on at Ohio State, the allegations against players at Auburn and for some the implications that maybe top Texas athletes were steered towards Oregon via scouting services turned street agents.

At the root of all this controversy is the question of whether NCAA athletes are supposed to be amateurs.  College football doesn't have a minor league system like hockey or baseball where players can go and get paid smaller amounts to hone their craft and make a living until the major professional associations are ready to call them up for the big payday.  Instead they're required to spend 3 years out of high school, sacrificing their bodies, dedicating their time and forsaking a tremendous amount of money until the all seeing all mighty NCAA declares they are fit for employment. 

Obviously not every athlete that decides to play college football comes from the means necessary to make these sacrifices and so some turn to other less NCAA sanctioned ways of getting by.  Does this mean they're bad people and don't deserve to represent our University or does it mean the system is flawed?  Let's discuss.

Matt: Personally, I believe that NCAA players are already being paid.  The NCAA has set forth what it believes are acceptable forms of payment for players (i.e. tuition, room and board, stipends, etc).  I see little to no reason why someone that has chosen to go to school and represent a University should be given more than they already have.  On top of that, many institutions are running athletic budgets deep in the red and paying players would even more severely hamper school and state budgets.  Finally, if we're already having problems policing the current "pay out" schedule, who's to say that suddenly opening the wallets of boosters, AD's and Universities to pay athletes wouldn't cause even more rampant indiscretion?

Jared: I think the first thing that needs to be established is, are college players (not just football but basketball) receiving adequate payment in terms of tuition, stipend, etc. And the answer to that is a resounding no. There are a lot of straw men that get brought up in this discussion, but this is really what it comes down to. Is the current situation fair to student-athletes, and does it foster the type of environment that we want. I don't think it comes close, mostly due to the total failure of the NCAA.

While players receive tuition and stipends for room, board, and books, that's essentially it. Living costs a lot more than that. We shouldn't be in a situation where athletes are struggling to pay for gas to get to and from the athletic facilities. While this wasn't a problem in the past, it's quickly becoming a problem with the strain that is being put on college athletics. It's no longer enough for players to work in the fall and spring. Being a college football or college basketball player is a full-time job in and of itself. These players don't get a summer, they don't get a winter. On the whole, they can't keep jobs, and even if they could, it'd come under NCAA scrutiny. Many players are dependent on family members to help them out. This is fine for some players, but is not an option for others.

These problems are compounded by some mind-numbingly stupid NCAA regulations. For student-athletes, many things that happen all the time for normal students are not allowed (see the Dawyne Jarrett situation). They can't receive anything for free without fear of the NCAA coming down on them. The tOSU athletes committed NCAA violations for selling and trading their own private property. In my opinion, these types of actions should not be illegal (regulated, yes, but not outlawed).

The NCAA's quest to limit so much athlete behavior has almost ensured that the rules will be broken. The NCAA has created a system that unfairly constrains student-athletes, and furthers the gap between them and typical college students. The system of rules and enforcement in place make no sense.

In your opening you stated, "The NCAA has set forth what it believes are acceptable forms of payment for players." The key here is, "what it believes." The NCAA is an incompetent and corrupt mess. It has failed to uphold the interest of the student-athletes, and the current system should be changed.

Matt: Let's try and keep this conversation strictly to football. There aren't nearly enough college basketball teams breaking even financially to even consider including them at this point. Plus, they have an alternative to go play overseas for a year and then enter the NBA, unlike college football players. I don't want to make this argument too hard on ya.

You say adequate like it's not a relative term. Many people go through 4 years of education taking out loans, living on top roman and 7-11 nacho cheese sauce, and deciding to live near campus because they and their families can't afford the expenses of having a car. Let's not forget that most of these players never have to buy a single pair of shoes, pants, shirts, hats or other clothing item given the lucrative shoe contracts programs have. Ask anyone that is still paying off student loans if they would have liked to been given free tuition, books, computers and other supplies, housing, food, clothes while they went through school. See if "adequate" still holds water.

Sure, excess living costs more than that, but that's not what they are being paid to do. I think a lot of people get caught up in the discrepancies between what these athletes bring in for the institution, what the next level (even mediocre) players make, and what NCAA players are currently receiving and think, "my goodness these guys are getting screwed." But that's ignoring the bigger picture.

NCAA football is the bread winner of the athletic family. So many programs are funded by the excess profits brought in by football. If we were to truly give football players what they are worth to the school, we'd have to sacrifice women's basketball, track and field, golf, baseball, lacrosse, etc. And not just at Oregon, but across the nation. You'd have about 3 scholarship sports and everything else would be at the club, walk-on, level. Hell, every school would end up being Cal.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending NCAA regulations by any stretch of the imagination. But if we start allowing players to sell items, work beyond a certain level, and make more money, the "mind-numbing" violations would only escalate. What do you mean I can only sell my jersey for $85? You're telling me I'm suspended for selling it for $86? Or because the guy included shipping and handling? Or because I got paid $50/hour to wash cars at the local used car dealer? Where does it stop?

The violations, the amount of regulation, and the strain on coaches, recruiting, and current players would get even worse. We're not talking about whether they should be given anything or not. We're only talking about to what degree. I've yet to be convinced that what football players are currently receiving is not "adequate."

Jared: You still haven't addressed the basic question. Should our football players have to beg for gas and/or pizza money? Yeah, our football players can survive and they are being "adequately" taken care of. They will get through college with little to no debt. But that's not really what we're talking about. They have few options for what they can do while at college. Other students can choose to get a second job to get through college (most don't). But football players do not even have that option available to them because it's a "violation."

We're not talking about what football players are "worth," because if we were going to give them what they were worth, LaMichael James would be making thousands (maybe millions) of dollars. We're talking about what is just and reasonable to achieve a collegiate education.

The fact is that the current NCAA rules do not foster that. They foster bitterness and resent at a system that exploits student-athletes who can't even live a normal life. The goal of the NCAA should be to foster an environment that helps the student-athlete live the most normal life possible, and encourages the student aspect of that. And that's not happening. What are our players supposed to do when they see other students going out to eat, or live in a better off-campus apartment, and there is absolutely nothing they can do to better their situation no matter what they do? Oregon and other schools have done all they can to better student-athlete life, and that's a great competitive advantage. But all that does is further alienate the athletes from the normal college life.

I recently read the "What It Means To Be A Duck," and one of the aspects that stood out to me was Ahmad Rashād talking about how being an athlete at Oregon was not just about being an athlete, but about growing as a person and being a part of the entire student body. I don't believe that this is possible anymore. Athletics are a business, and NCAA rules have done everything in their power to separate student-athletes from the rest of the student population.

And as for strains becoming greater on the the coaches. Those poor coaches. How dare they have to worry about the player's well-being when they're making millions of dollars per year.

Matt: Beg for pizza or gas money... who's creating the straw man now? So you're arguing that student athletes have it too hard financially and that is alienating them from the rest of the student population? Do you even remember what college life was about? You obviously never had the privilege of enjoying the delicacy that is a ketchup sandwich.

I'm not against making the rules easier to follow. I think it's ridiculous that if someone bums a ride across campus they're getting something for free in the eyes of the NCAA. I think the entire NCAA rule book is a complete mess and needs to be addressed. But that doesn't change the fact that college football players are compensated very well at this point in time.

Adding extra compensation would only further alienate them from the general student population. I'm glad that athletes have to find enjoyment in the stay at home and play video game night instead of hitting the clubs and making it rain. I'm glad student athletes have to think about how difficult it is to be a college student and how most other students don't have the tutors, facilities, and extra benefits that they have and how they shouldn't take it for granted. This isn't exclusive to Oregon. Almost every D1 FBS programs has benefits that the average student would die to be able to take advantage of.

As for the coaches, I agree, I want them concerned with the well being of their players. I don't want them buried in a mountain of compliance paperwork, verification forms and submitting correspondence records. I want them making sure their players are attending class, being students and then game planning for how to beat the next team. Adding more benefits to athletes means adding more regulations which means more attention by the coaches so that their millions are not going to disappear because one of their players didn't understand the new limits to their benefits and now they're facing NCAA sanctions.

Jared: You keep stating that football players are compensated very well. I don't agree. They are compensated in some ways, but this does not mean they are compensated well. The NCAA is forcing some (not all) of their student-athletes to live at basically poverty level. If this was simply a baseline of compensation, that would be one thing. But the important distinction here is that normal students can take action to better their situation. The NCAA doesn't allow student-athletes to make this choice. They can't hold jobs. They can't accept gifts from their friend's parents. They are forced to live in a situation that is not always to the benefit of the student or the University.

I'm not advocating paying players extravagant amounts, but they should have stipends that allows all student-athletes (not just those that come from good backgrounds) the ability to live as normal a life as possible. We're not talking about "making it rain." We're talking about a few hundred dollars per month. I think that we need to a system that conforms to the needs of each student. The NCAA has tried to create a one-size-fits-all rulebook, when that simply is not realistic based on the diversity of backgrounds for their student athletes.

As far as regulation goes, you've brought up a lot of very unrealistic scenarios. Universities have compliance departments for a reason, and they would simply have to adjust to different regulations. Also, adding benefits does not mean adding regulations. It means changing regulation. The NCAA currently regulates everything anyway, so changing how these things are handled will not add any regulation, and if done right, could make enforcement easier.

We currently have an unjust system that is totally unenforceable. The NCAA has failed it's objective to serve the student-athlete, and it's lack of ability to enforce has simply brought more regulations that exploits the student-athlete.


There you have it. What side do you fall on? Should NCAA athletes get paid more, or do you think they're already fairly compensated? Is the NCAA an incompetent mess? How much and how would you add extra benefits for student athletes? Feel free to finish this discussion in the comments.