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It is time to compensate college athletes

| Friday, September 29, 2017

College athletes are undeniably subjects of exploitation under the current system of college athletics. It may be less desired by fans, universities and the NCAA, but a system that further compensates college athletes is not only economically sound, but also morally requisite.

I recognize that college athletes receive scholarships, and that a college education is a highly valuable commodity in modern society. Surely, college athletes are granted this privilege amongst many others. My argument is not that college athletes receive no benefits of value, but rather that the benefits they receive are grossly disproportionate to the revenue and intangible value they generate.

Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama and countless other schools routinely draw close to or above $100 million in revenue from their football programs alone. Many college football and basketball coaches make much more money than their respective university presidents. At the University of Alabama, even the outside linebackers coach makes more money than the university president. Here at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly enjoys a yearly salary of over $1 million dollars and is not even amongst the very top earners in college football.

Athletics do not just draw in money, but also drive increases in the intangible value of universities. College athletics is often what makes schools more relevant and desired. This is undeniably true of Notre Dame, among many other schools.

Yet, the very casual actors of these increases in relevance, desirability and revenue — the players — are given but a sliver of the pie which they produce. This is blatantly unjust.

I do not believe that all college athletes should be paid. Rather, I would be in favor of a payment scheme that rewards individual athletes according to the projected revenue they draw in. This would likely mean football and basketball players would be the main payment recipients.

I realize that the system described above currently seems infeasible to both create and implement, but I nonetheless would contend that such a system would be the most in line with sound economics and morality.

I will be the first to concede that I do not have a comprehensive logistical plan to devising such a system, but I do believe that we have the capacity to concoct such a blueprint, given the vast array of innovative and analytical minds this country has to offer.

The reality is that not much serious thought and deliberation has been exercised in attempting to create a payment scheme. This article is not meant to put forth a particular system, but rather highlight the need to seriously work towards devising such a system.

Even if compensation in the form of salary was found to be completely impossible, there are still other personal revenue avenues that college athletes should be able to pursue. More specifically, I think that college athletes should be given the freedom to sign endorsement deals and sell memorabilia. NCAA athletes under the current system cannot even promote their YouTube channel, let alone commit to advertisement deals.

At the very least, players should be able to make money from their apparel being sold. When people go in to the bookstore at Notre Dame and buy a No. 7 football jersey, they are not buying an arbitrary jersey; they are buying a Brandon Wimbush jersey. Similarly, when people pick out a No. 35 basketball jersey in the Notre Dame bookstore, they are making a willful decision to buy a Bonzie Colson jersey. Yet, neither Wimbush nor Colson will receive any compensation from these transactions. This is wrong. Apparel companies and schools should not have a monopoly on the revenue generated from apparel sold in a player’s likeness. Rather, the player whose likeness was sold should receive at least a portion of the revenue generated.

College athletes have been arbitrarily designated as amateurs. There is nothing inherently amateur about college athletics. They spend more than 40 hours a week practicing. They draw national, even global, audiences.  They are a part of a multi-billion-dollar industry. The only thing that makes college athletes amateurs is the fact that they do not get paid. And seemingly the only reason college athletes do not get paid is because they have been labeled amateurs. Therefore, the justification of not compensating college athletes seems to be victim to a circular logic fallacy, not based in either ethical responsibility or economic competence.

Obviously, the logistics behind a compensation proposal are very difficult. It is also undeniably true that college athletics would lose a pureness that separates itself from professional athletics. However, asserting the difficulty of paying college athletes and complaining about the loss of uniqueness that would result from instituting such a system are not at all sufficient defenses of the current scheme. Simply throwing our hands in the air and saying, “It’s too hard” or “It won’t be the same” is a cop out and, quite frankly, a demonstration of willful and selfish ignorance to injustice.

It is finally time to face the uncomfortable yet all too obvious truth: College athletes deserve to be paid.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Eddie Damstra

Eddie is a senior from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Constitutional Studies and plans on pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

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