With new changes coming to college athletics following the NCAA’s ruling last week that players can profit from their name and likeness, it begs the question: why can’t colleges just directly pay their student-athletes?
Both the NCAA new ruling and the state of California’s new Fair Pay to Play Act prohibit student-athletes from being directly paid by their universities. While paying athletes directly seems like it would be the easiest way to tackle the issue of compensating college athletes, it does come with many issues.
First, directly paying college athletes would make them employees, and if that were to be the case, the NCAA would really be no different than professional sports. Players are employees of their teams and players would be employees of their universities. This would change the character of college sports completely. Plus, it would open up all sorts of other legal questions such as mandatory employee benefits, healthcare and retirement contributions, and workers’ compensation for injuries.
Second, the schools would face the issue of who gets paid and how much each athlete would get paid. Would athletes on teams that lose money get paid? The University of Michigan football team generates far more income than the San Jose State football team does. Would Michigan football players then make more than SJSU football players? If colleges were allowed to run their athletic programs like professional sports, then recruits would just go to the schools that would pay them the most, making it impossible for schools with less funding to ever compete with schools that devote lots of money to athletics. And shouldn’t student-athletes choose their college based on things like coaching, mentoring, education and the overall college experience?
Third, would schools pay all their athletes? Schools would be faced with the dilemma of whether to pay their track runners and fencers in addition to their football and basketball stars. Colleges would also have to figure out if all their athletes should be paid equally. Should the starting quarterback and third-string defensive tackle be paid the same?
It seems like the state of California and the NCAA are on the right track for a compromise solution. Allowing student-athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness allows players to be compensated for their athletic abilities through endorsements but also allows colleges to avoid the challenges that would result by directly paying their student-athletes.