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Where does it end?

Alexandra Stembaugh | Friday, September 20, 2013

Hundreds of thousands of fans pay money and travel to watch them play each week. Adoring supporters have jerseys with their numbers. They tour the country, put in over 50 hours a week, and see themselves the subject of discussions on ESPN and even SNL skits. These aren’t NFL stars. These are “student-athletes” of the NCAA.
The days are long gone where we could selectively ignore the raging debate about paying college athletes. The tension is nothing new. Recently, NCAA and conference profits have increased exponentially while investigations like those involving Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel for alleged autograph sale have become far more common. In a system where taking any money or selling paraphernalia results in suspension or worse, what is a successful athlete to do when he puts in so many hours and knows for the same effort he could be making millions at the next level?
It cannot be overlooked that athletes choose to come to college. The majority of athletes who go to college will not be professionals, so a college degree ensures success beyond sports. Even if an athlete does want to play professionally, the NBA and NFL won’t allow admittance to the league straight out of high school. Our college system should not be the place to encourage athletes to play when they have no interest in academics.
Some argue whether the concept of a student-athlete is even unrealistic. Ideally being a student should be any student-athlete’s top priority. Too often, this is simply not possible. In this area, Notre Dame seems to be one example of success. In 2012, the Notre Dame football team had the top Graduation Success Rate in the country at 97 percent. At other schools, a rate of less than 50 percent is common and academics become secondary to athletics.
Consider the money each college makes from athletic program. Notre Dame football makes around $15 million from its NBC contract each year. At most other schools, money netted from athletic events is kept to support their athletic programs. Notre Dame uses its contract money to fund the financial-aid endowment for all students and support fellowships, something few students would claim to be against. According to the NCAA, only 23 athletic programs made a profit in 2012. Unlike most schools, our program actually brings money back to the university at more than $10 million a year. Is this exploitation of athletes or simply a benefit to our school as a whole from athletes who voluntarily play?
Few proposals for payment are agreeable to all. Would it be decided that revenue-generating sports like football or basketball should be paid while other athletes don’t deserve it? Players that would be paid are the same individuals who already essentially receive payment in the form of full scholarships, including tuition, room and board, and money for books. The most feasible option for greater “payment” to athletes would be offering them stipends of a couple thousand dollars a year for spending money on things a scholarship does not cover, like a night out to eat. While many larger schools have agreed to this provision, smaller schools have fought the idea, both on principle and because there is no room in their budget.
Staunch opponents also argue that these smaller schools shouldn’t be forced to give athletes a stipend just to keep their programs competitive. Yet college athletics already operate as an arms race based on money. Some schools can afford state-of-the-art practice facilities, new stadiums, and record salaries to pay coaches. These overwhelming financial advantages often translate to on-field success.
Amateurism is the draw of college sports. Fans enjoy seeing students competing, knowing they are doing it for the love of the game and their school rather than for money. It makes sense to grant major athletes a stipend because of the work they put in and the money and coverage they bring to the university. Any direct payment or salary based on performance should be avoided. While amateurism in college athletics should be protected, a change is needed to adequately compensate athletes for the money they bring to colleges.

Alexandra Stembaugh is a junior studying Economics and English living in Welsh Family Hall. She can be reached at
astembau@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.