Pay for Play: It’s all about Perspective

By: Paige Cunningham

There is a growing debate in college sports about whether  athletes should be paid to play, especially at the NCAA Division 1 level where both the NCAA and the university bring in millions of dollars some say on the backs of the athletes.  When I first started thinking about this issue, I blithely determined that college athletes should not be paid to play a sport.

After all, our compensation comes in the form of college scholarships, allowing for a free or reduced-cost education. Plus, we get uniforms and other apparel and gear, in addition to the travel and meals, which are provided for free.

Exploitation?  Hardly. So from my perspective as a female, D2, nursing major, volleyball player, the answer seemed simple: student-athletes should not be paid to play a college sport.  

However, after doing some research and talking to other college athletes, coaches and my go-to Dynasty Networks posse, I have been given other perspectives on the pay-for-play issue and have discovered the issue is far from simple.

My cousin, a D1 decathlete/heptathlete, agrees with my basic premise.  From his perspective, college athletes should not get paid.  

First, he points out the benefit of a free education, whereas non-athletes pay a minimum of $20-30k per year for the same education.  

On top of that, athletes get first pick for classes, hundreds of dollars’ worth of gear and hundreds of dollars’ worth of travel.  He also points out that college athletics provides exposure for those who want to go professional.  He says all of that seems to him to be a fair payment for being an athlete.

 On the flip side, a former high school volleyball and basketball teammate of mine believes college athletes should be paid.  

Her reasoning is that many college athletes pass up opportunities for internships and other jobs during the school year and summer as well.  From her perspective as a D1 basketball player, this puts student-athletes at a disadvantage for the working world after college sports.  

Because college basketball is her “job,” she believes she should get paid, especially since there is no time to hold even a part time job to
earn money.


The coaches I talked to also presented a wide spectrum of opinions.  One college coach believes one of the important life lessons taught by college athletics is the idea of hard work, dedication and commitment to a team.

She also believes the emphasis for all students, including student-athletes, should be on education.  In addition, she raised the issue of larger schools being able to create an uneven playing field to attract athletes if they are permitted to pay athletes.

Smaller schools would never be able to compete with the larger schools who could recruit better athletes and more athletes.  Similarly, athletes would end up making college decisions based on pay and not on what is necessarily the best fit of them as a student-athlete.

Another coach offered the opinion that the current NCAA rules are too strict.  For example, it is illegal for a coach to lend an athlete airfare to go to a funeral back home if the athlete does not have enough money.  

He believes there is nothing wrong with a stipend to be paid to every athlete on equal terms, meaning, the “stars” should not get more than the non-headliners.  

He also recognizes paying a stipend creates additional issues that would need to be addressed, such as whether it should be an equal amount of pay regardless of the sport, the size of the school and the amount of the underlying scholarship, to name a few.  

Another coach believes college athletes should be paid, but ties the payment to degree completion.  If the student-athlete does not earn a degree within a certain timeframe, then the money is retained by the educational institution.  

He, too, recognizes that this type of system raises other issues that would have to be address under the current NCAA regime.  His thought, though, is to somehow create an incentive for college athletes to finish their degrees.

 One athletic director stated that while she believes athletes are exploited at the college level (and the higher the level, the worse it is), nonetheless, athletes are already being paid with tuition, books, room and board, plus other perks of being an athlete, such as apparel and travel.  

If managed correctly, these athletes should have little or no debt when they graduate.  How many jobs can a non-athlete student find that will pay them that kind of money?johnny-manziel

My Dynasty Network sportswriter friends shared many of the same varying views as the coaches.  One view is that since playing a college sport is like having a job without receiving cash in compensation, players should receive stipends throughout the school year.

 Another view is that college athletes should be paid because of their monetary contribution to the college in terms of ticket sales, concessions, boosters and jersey sales.  

Given the NCAA itself is on pace to make around $825 million this year, you would think athletes could receive at least a small cash stipend to help with personal expenses and provide spending money.  Another view is that college athletes should be allowed to profit off of their own names and likenesses.

Similar to one of the coaches, one of my Dynasty colleagues is of the camp that believes the athlete should receive a cash stipend only upon the completion of his or her degree.  

Also, like the coaches, my colleagues recognize that paying athletes to play raises many questions that would have to be resolved before instituting a change in the current rules.  

For example, do only D1 athletes get paid, or does it apply to D2 and D3 athletes as well?  Does it apply to all sports or only the big-time revenue sports like football and basketball?  Do all athletes get the same amount?  Should the athlete have to qualify for a stipend based on income criteria?

Despite all the good arguments to the contrary, I have not changed my fundamental opinion about whether college athletes should be paid to play sports.  I still believe student-athletes should not be paid to play.  

What has changed, however, is my perspective on the issue.  As a female, D2, nursing major, volleyball player, my competitive sports career will likely end after college. I am not expecting a call from a pro, semi-pro or Olympic scout, nor is that my dream.  

My dream is to work as a pediatric oncology nurse.  Volleyball, for me, is the opportunity to continue playing a sport I love and be part of a team while pursuing my nursing degree.  


Many other female athletes share this perspective: sports is a means to an end, but not the end. For my cousin, too, there is no current plan to continue track and field at a higher level than college. Like me, his athletic scholarship allowed him to pay for or offset the high cost of a private college education.  But one size does not fit all.

 For many student-athletes, particularly male, college sports is merely a stepping stone towards a professional career.  Basketball players can be drafted one year after high school and football players after three.  

Therefore, a college degree may not be the goal (whether it should be is a topic for another article). So even though my opinion hasn’t changed, I recognize that my opinion is based on my gender, future goals and even the college sport I chose.  It’s all about perspective.



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