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March 21st, 2014
07:18 AM ET

Web exclusive: Should college athletes be paid?

Top college basketball teams from across the nation are facing off over the next three weeks during March Madness. The highly-anticipated sporting event is watched by millions and generates over a billion dollars, but none of that goes to the players.

Meanwhile, an attorney representing four college athletes filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA on Monday arguing that universities should have the option of paying players. "The reality is that it is already pro sports for everybody but the athletes," Attorney Jeffrey Kessler said in the landmark anti trust suit.

Is it time for student athletes to get paid?

In an exclusive online edition of Crossfire, legendary NBA basketball Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar argues in favor of giving college football and basketball players a salary. "There’s so much money being made and the people who are creating this wealth do not get to participate," says Jabbar. "College athletes are vulnerable and if they get hurt, they lose their scholarship, then what?"

USA Today columnist Christine Brennan says that it's not possible to pay them under the current model because of Title IX, which protects people based on discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities. "If we have to pay the football players, we have to pay the field hockey players, and we have to pay the men and women swimmers, and we have to pay the lacrosse players, softball players, baseball players," says Brennan.

Watch the full debate, hosted by Newt Gingrich and Van Jones and chime in: Do you think college athletes should get paid? Join the conversation by tweeting your thoughts using #crossfire or leave a comment below.

Should college athletes be paid?

Hypocritical not to pay college athletes?

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Filed under: Christine Brennan • Debates • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar • Newt Gingrich • Sports • Van Jones
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Robert

    There are two valid sides to this argument. Yes college athletes bring in a lot of money into schools through ticket sales, merchandise sales, etc. The athletes who bring in this money never see a penny, but what they are given is far more beneficial than money. College athletes are given a chance to better themselves through education. Some athletes if it where not for sheer athletic talent would not be admitted to prestigious universities such as Duke, UNC, and Baylor. These athletes are given a chance to get the best education possible and some of them do not have to pay a penny for it. In the long scheme of things, some college athletes will not make it in professional sports and will be thrown out into the working class world, and without a college education they could struggle. So my point is this simple statement, College Athletes are given a chance for a better education and a better future far beyond sports and should not be paid because they are given such a wonderful opportunity.

    September 2, 2014 at 12:17 am | Reply
  2. Keith

    I believe that there should be some sort of stipend that will help provide the athlete some spending money. There continues to be news stories of athletes shoplifting small items of food mostly due to incomplete compensation. The athletes are often unable to work part time during there schooling because of the time spent on their schools athletics. Colleges and companies make millions off of merchandise with the players name on it and it is un-American to take such advantage of these students without proper compensation.

    August 31, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  3. Tyler

    College football and basketball generates 6 billion dollars per year for their schools. Nick Saban from Alabama made 5.5 million dollars last year and, Coach Krzyzewski made 9.7 million. Coaches, athletic directors, and the NCAA are making tons of money off these players, yet the players never see any of it. Players such as Shabazz Napier should not be going to bed at night still hungry because he can’t afford to buy any food. These players are working day in and day out for their schools and deserve some sort of compensation for what they do.

    July 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  4. J

    I am a former College athlete and feel that I have a perspective that many don't . First I don't believe that athletes should be paid. The scholarship that I was afforded, approximately 45k per yr/ 180k over 4 yrs, more than compensated me for my time. More importantly, I finished with my degree and left school with ZERO student loan debt. Without accumulated interest on that student loan, I saved hundreds of thousands...lets not forget that. I know how significant that interest can impair rapid repayment, we just paid off my wife's debt twenty years removed from undergrad. That said, what I do believe should happen for athletes is the following: 1) reasonable stipend since part-time work is disallowed. If the athletes are scholarship students just like those in music or those that receive full-academic scholarships, apply similar treatment. 2) athletes should retain their likeness, name, and image. 3) scholarships should extend beyond 4 yrs allowing players to return to school at anytime to finish their degree.

    Lastly, the unionization position is seriously peculiar, nevermind that the local court supported it, but most students fail to understand that all benefits are collectively bargained. Which means that current benefits are subject to negotiation and may be diminished depending on what's gained. And what if they don't like unionization, lets see them try to unify and decertify. That'll be hilarious....

    April 11, 2014 at 11:40 am | Reply
  5. rebecca

    Are they not already "paid"? A lot of athletes aren't even qualified to be sitting in college classrooms, yet they are because they are given athletic scholarships. And now we should pay athletes to PLAY? No.
    The people you see in college classrooms are paying a tuition to earn a degree in order to better their chances of receiving a job in the future. College athletes are playing sports in order to better their chances of receiving a job (professional sports) in the future. Do you not think earning a degree takes hard work? Its hard mental work, whereas athletes do hard physical work. Pay one, pay the other.

    April 9, 2014 at 8:34 am | Reply
  6. Onthemoney

    Every Athlete should get paid according to the revenue that their particular sport may generate. Pay them already!

    April 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  7. Caesar

    The people. Who are against athletes are the ones who never played they don't know how much hard work it takes to be a champion what happens when a player gets hurt and can't play anymore and their scholarship is taken away from them but while he was playing he made the university millions of dollars now they don't have any use for them what happens to them

    April 1, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  8. Michael

    The problem is that the NCAA wants it both ways. They want college athletics to be a big time professional show but they want the performers to be amateurs. Go one way or the other. Either get rid of the pros or pay them.

    March 30, 2014 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  9. Rogue351

    NO they should not be paid. Take the money, put it back into the University and lower tuition costs for all students. Last time I checked more students go to collage for an education than go to play sports. In the long term which student helps America the most ? The ones with an education or the ones playing a sport ? Currently education costs are so high fewer and fewer people can afford it. If corporation actually paid fair wages that allowed for middle class people to send their kids to collage we would all benefit now and in the future. Paying a few huge sums of money so they can ruin their lives as we have seen so many times. Spending this money this way has zero future benefits to the country as a whole. Education is the way forward not watching yet another multi million dollar athlete run around making a joker out of themselves.

    March 27, 2014 at 1:02 am | Reply
  10. Britney

    NO! They are students in an extra curricular activity. They get their education free, or almost free anyway, and then have the ability to get paid $100's of thousands of dollars over the next few years of their careers. While in the mean time there are students who struggle just to pay their own way to go to school and still be able to live at the same time...

    March 26, 2014 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • Rogue351

      Actually most collage athletes do not get picked up by major teams, only a few. Most leave collage with poor educations, injured and with a degree they did not earned. Parents who spend the time and money in an attempt to make their child into a pro athlete are more often than not disappointed. It is like playing the lottery with a persons life.

      March 27, 2014 at 1:09 am | Reply
  11. Barbara

    I dont think they should get paid. You have college students who cant get any money for college and are paying their own way. It's unfair to get their way paid, have fun playing a sport and get an extra check. You have poor people who cant afford every meal. How about donating some of the extra money to charities to help people who are hungry and homeless. Good deeds...No need for greed.

    March 26, 2014 at 9:30 am | Reply
  12. Mike

    Truly an insane idea!

    March 25, 2014 at 7:13 am | Reply
  13. Gary Price

    Not only NO, but HELL NO. They already get a free degree in anything they want, so whether or not they ever make pro, they are set for life, unless they drug it away! College is school, a place for learning, that is where it ends.

    March 24, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  14. Dan from Mass

    Of course they shouldn't be paid. It's an extra-curricular activity which for the most part they are already getting a unfair scholarship for. If we started paying them, we would have to pay our Actors, Musicians, and even Math Athletes. It's true there is a ridiculous amount of money in College Football and other sports, but who's fault is that? If you are upset with not getting paid, get a job instead of playing a game. How about we keep the money with the people who contribute to society.

    March 24, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  15. Dean

    They get paid already. Free education is worth quite a bit. If they win the suit and colleges have to pay them money also, it will be the end of college sports. If you pay football players you also will have to pay golfers, volleyball players, tennis players, bowlers and any other person who participates in a college sport. The majority of schools will not be able to do this. Not every team is like Ohio state with a stadium that holds 100,000 for football games and could possibly support the other sports with college football revenue. Most colleges will cancel all sporting events. Which might not be a bad idea. After all, education is the purpose of college.

    March 24, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  16. Dan5404

    No. When we pay to help the masses of students go to college without saddling themselves with half a lifetime of debt, then we can think about playing games with paid athletes. Most athletes will not become professional or rich. College is designed for learning and it is far more important than any sport.

    March 24, 2014 at 11:26 am | Reply
  17. Beth

    They ARE getting paid. Free tuition, room and board, tutors, and a passing grade for classes they flunked.

    March 24, 2014 at 10:39 am | Reply
  18. cuisinemanager

    Once student athletes start getting paid the magic of the game will be lost. At the same time it is obscene for TV networks, universities to make such an obscene amount of money on the backs of children that get no benefit whatsoever. A percent of this money should be set aside for some type of charitable work or form many more scholarships for students.

    March 24, 2014 at 10:01 am | Reply
  19. Hector Slagg

    No. They should not be paid to play. It is time to get back to how it used to be. There was a time when only Juniors and Seniors could play Varsity Sports. They are there for an education not sports. Today you can't tell the difference between College and the Pro's. When a College Athlete jumps to the Pro's after one season it cheapens the game.

    March 24, 2014 at 7:35 am | Reply
  20. Minne Mouse

    No they shouldn't be paid. They are in college only and already receive free education. Why not start paying elementary, middle school and high school athletes?? This will never happen because going to school is all about getting educated regardless to what type of school or college a person is attending. When a person lands a position professionally this is when they deserve to be paid. All the money raised from athletic events needs to be put back into education not the wallets of the athlete's. There are to many athletes and in many different sporting categories. College tuition rates would have to be raised, entrance fees to sporting evens, parking ect.. will be raised. College students have never been paid so the money from sporting events are already accounted for. The money would have to come from somewhere just to pay people who are not professional and haven't even graduated college. Never going to happen!

    March 24, 2014 at 7:07 am | Reply
  21. willhaas

    Let's be realistic, many of them are in many respects being paid in one way or another. College basketball is the NBA's and the NFL's minor league. Top team coaches are often fired, not because they fail to offer adequate inctruction but because the team fails to win. Many of the players are atheletes first and students second but there are exceptions.

    March 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  22. delwell

    Scholars and Athletes
    Doug Elwell
    A few days ago I read an article from the NPR website titled, Let’s Separate The Schoolin’ From the Sports. It can be found at Key in “separate the schoolin” in their search box and it will pop up. I read it and wondered why it has taken so many years of hand wringing and head scratching on college and university campuses to propose a solution to a problem that has damaged their academic programs at least as far back as I can remember. I won’t go into all the details of the NPR essay; it is short and can be read quickly. But the essence of it is that the sacred cow of collegiate athletics has become “intertwined with—and complicates—all higher education”. It has been becoming intertwined for a very long time and the twining has long outlived its usefulness if it ever existed in the first place.
    I have an elegantly simple solution to undo the intertwining of “schoolin’ and sports”. It will probably never see the light of day because to implement it, that sacred cow would have to become an “…honest commercial adjunct…” to the university as the NPR piece suggests. But often arthritic sacred cows are kept because too many influential stake holders have vested interests in keeping old, arthritic sacred cows to the detriment of colleges and universities. My idea protects the integrity of academia as well as the sacred cow of the athletic program. Its simplicity is so elegant I can’t imagine why some athletic director and/or university president hasn’t already suggested it. Heaven knows they’re paid well enough to think up solutions to problems that transcend x’s and o’s on a locker room blackboard.
    My solution speaks only to taxpayer supported schools and private schools that receive tax dollars that find their way into athletic department budgets to subsidize their programs. With my plan, when a school recruits prospective athletes they are offered one of two options. The athlete must choose to follow a student/athlete path for four years or just an athlete path. If the athlete opts for the student/athlete path, then he/she must fully comply with the rigors of the school’s academic program—no fudging allowed. In academics, they would be held to the same standards as non-athletes. If the athlete opts for the student/athlete choice and cannot meet the same academic standards required of regular students, then he/she would be allowed to switch to the athlete path and forget the pursuit of a degree. In either scenario, the integrity and value of the academic degree is maintained for the student/athlete as well as the non-athlete student.
    Those athletes who opt for just the athletic program are only allowed to participate in his/her sport and forgo the pursuit of a degree. This establishes the divide between schoolin’ and sports. Thereafter, the sports side of the divide is recognized as a de facto farm system for professional sports in the manner of baseball’s minor leagues. The appeal of this is that the star athlete fills stadia (read brings in money) for the university sports programs and frees up tax dollars that will no longer be siphoned off from the schoolin’ side of the divide to support money losing athletic programs. It would put those taxpayer provided funds back where they belong—supporting academic programs. This would help ease runaway tuition and other fees that contribute to the mountain of student debt that increasingly burdens regular students.
    So why not? Under my plan, for the overwhelming majority of students who are not athletes, the value and integrity of their academic degrees is maintained. And the money, now siphoned off into the black hole of athletic departments, is returned to the schoolin’ side where it belongs. For the overwhelming majority of athletes who are not students, they get the privilege of playing for a university farm team that prepares them for professional sport careers. So far so good, but now befuddled presidents scratch their heads and AD’s thumb through their whistle lanyards as if they were strings of prayer beads and wonder from whence the funding to maintain the sacred cow of big time athletic programs would come now that the money once invested in studying Ditka is now back in the classroom invested in studying Dostoyevsky or DNA. The answer is obvious. Big time sports would be subsidized by professional sport leagues (NFL, NBA and PGA, etc.), and other businesses that live off them such as sporting goods manufacturers, media networks and etc. After all these groups are the primary beneficiaries of the university programs. Professional sport leagues recruit from them. Broadcasters and businesses market products related to them such as equipment and supplies and league sanctioned memorabilia. Alumni associations ought to step out into the light of day and put more of their own skin in the game. It would finally free them from maintaining the myth of the amateur athlete. Finally in that light of day, they could openly recruit by offering all sorts of benefits for signing on to play good old Alma Mater. For the so-called minor sports that cannot support themselves, I suggest they also turn to subsidies from alumni associations and businesses that can benefit from advertising from a given sport. An example of a business tie-in would be Speedo underwriting swimming programs. There are many others.
    Decades of indecisive hand wringing over this inherent conflict of interest between academics and athletics along with our deeply ingrained cultural hostility to things intellectual has led to the deification of the so-called amateur athlete at the expense of the academic. It is time to undo the strangle hold athletics have over their academic counterparts. Both need to come out of the closet and openly acknowledge their adherence to the overblown mŷthos of the student athlete.
    This isn’t rocket science. It is a pragmatic solution to a real problem for college and universities, students and taxpayers whose dollars are siphoned away from supporting what ought to be the primary purpose of higher education i.e., higher education. It is not a proper function of tax supported institutions of higher learning to subsidize the billion plus dollars per year business of college athletics. Put most of that money where the majority of students are—the academic side of University Avenue—not on the athletic side where the small minority reside.

    © Doug Elwell, July, 2013

    March 23, 2014 at 7:09 am | Reply
  23. Robert Love

    i graduated from a NJCAA school Vincennes University and if College Basketball is supposed to be amature the players would be allowed to go home during the summer break the players there are allowed to go home for 2 weeks a person working gets that as vacation during a first year on any job and in many sport there's "volunteer" work outs but it's really manditory cause if you don't you loose your starting spot and if you look at college sports video games they only put numbers on the backs but the likness of the players look alot like the accual players and the numbers are the same and all the profits go to the NCAA the players get zero

    March 23, 2014 at 2:42 am | Reply
  24. margam

    They are being paid! They are getting substantial financial aid while other students pay tuition, part of which subsidises sports, athletes & the many perks they also get. They are being coached by highly paid coaches & given a showcase for their future career in the NBA, NHL, NFL, etc. That is all worth a fortune! So some of the schools profits from the gate,broadcast, etc do get fed back to these student athletes. How greedy to ask for more!

    March 22, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  25. S. McCorkle

    With regard to paying college athletes, there's no reason to. If college athletes don't like playing with their only compensation being that they're getting a free ride through college, which isn't cheap, then they shouldn't accept the scholarships to play. There are lots of people in our country who would love to get a free ride through college, just for playing basketball or football. And, given the quality of play we've been seeing from most colleges recently in the TV limelight, I don't think the quality of play would suffer.

    March 22, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  26. bigdoglv

    They are getting paid. Free college education, free room and board. Don't like it, move on.

    March 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  27. Dee Hackathorne

    What do you think?

    March 22, 2014 at 10:17 am | Reply
  28. Paul Davidson

    Athletes are already paid! What do you think full-tuition scholarships, free dorms, free food, free books, free tutors and private study areas, free transportation to games and free athletic apparel are? They are paid already and paid well! The problem is not whether athletes should be paid (as they are already paid well). The problem is: will jocks run the US universities even more than they already do? What a shame for the USA to be even having this dialogue. Every college president should band together and issuer a public statement: ENOUGH. We will go back immediately to the academic goal of the university and start scaling-back the ridiculous hyperreality of college "sports."

    March 22, 2014 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • kurt

      The question isn't if they should be paid to be honest.

      The question is if the school should have the right to make millions off of their players without kicking something back to them.

      I think a player should get some percentage of the sales of jersey's with his number, posters with his image and other things that professionals would get paid for as "endorsements". That, or schools shouldn't be allowed to sell those things for profit either.

      I don't think they should be paid for playing a sport. But they should be able to profit off of their name and likeness. The school shouldn't own that.

      March 24, 2014 at 9:59 am | Reply
      • Matt

        They are getting something back, some of these schools cost up to $50,000 (or more) for four year colleges, which comes up to about $200 thousand for an education, that's a hell of a paycheck if ask me. If they wanna get paid, go pro, if you can't go pro, focus on school. That's as simple as it gets. Some students have hundreds of thousands of dollar loans which severely impedes them later in life to pay these debts off, while you have some basketball and football players that have all the collegiate priveledges AND they get paid? Come on, thats just unfair to honest students who are working hard for their education.

        March 26, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
  29. Took

    They do get paid. College is free. Wish my non-athlete could say the same.

    March 22, 2014 at 8:30 am | Reply
  30. kobrakai7474

    Since scholarship athletes are forbidden to work during their sport's season, I feel that they SHOULD receive nominal compensation for the time they must devote to their sport while being unable to earn a pay check elsewhere. I am NOT talking about million dollar contracts, but rather a few dollars per week so a player can go out for pizza with his buddies or fill his gas tank (or the gas tank of a friend who has a car on campus) or do any number of other things that a typical college student might do on any given day.

    How is this for a simple solution: Scholarship athletes (in ALL sports at ALL Division I schools... not just at the schools and in the sports that make money) should be paid a reasonable hourly rate (say $10/hour) for hours actually devoted to their sports in season. In other words, if, in a given week, an athlete must attend 20 hours at practice/meetings and plus spend 6 hours attending games (including travel time and/or time spent in locker room getting ready), they should be paid for 26 hours x $10/hour or $260. To keep it fair and to avoid unduly punishing universities that don't happen to be "football factories", the "paycheck" should come directly from the NCAA and again it should go to ALL scholarship athletes NOT just football and men's basketball players. Surely, they can put some of the millions they earn off bowl games, the NCAA basketball tournament, et. al. toward a fund that "pays" the kids who earn that money. If the NCAA doesn't have sufficient money, they should "tax" member universities based on the revenues (or profit, etc.) of their athletic departments to obtain the necessary funds.

    No, no scholarship athlete is going to get rich this way nor should they be. If they want to get rich playing a game, they need to quit school and go pro if they are good enough. Otherwise, they need to accept that a free education along with some spending money is an incredible deal.

    March 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Reply
    • kurt

      The problem is a simple one of math.

      Let's say we give every college athelete the equivalent of 10 dollars an hour for a 15 hour work week for 9 months of the year that school is in session.

      That's 150 dollars a week for about 36 weeks... or just under 5,500 dollars a year.

      The NCAA reports they have roughly 420,000 atheletes each year. I'm not sure how many are scholarship vs walk on... but this is the total number of student atheletes. If you gave all of them a 150 dollar a week stipend, you'd be looking at 2.3 BILLION dollars a year.

      I found one website that stated that about 152,000 scholarships were issues in 2011. I don't know if that's just NEW scholarships, or a total of all scholarship atheletes. If it's all... that would mean that you'd be looking at 836 million dollars to just pay all scholarship recipients 150 dollars a week for 9 months.

      That for a relatively small 5500 dollar per year stipend.

      We're dealing with a large number of atheletes here. If you want to pay all of them, even small amounts per person will end up being huge expenditures to pay for them all.

      March 24, 2014 at 9:56 am | Reply
  31. kurt

    While schools wouldn't like it, the way around all of this is not to pay players, but give them the rights to their likeness and the ability to sell those rights to advertising firms. Endorsements, advertisements, shoe deals... whatever.

    You don't have to worry about title 9... the field hockey players will also have the right to sign endorsement deals. The school isn't providing any money. It's just the idea that you have to be clean of the "taint of agents" would be removed in order to mainatin amateur status for a college athelete.

    And to a certain extent... why would this be a problem? If I'm attending a college to earn a computer programming degree on an academic scholarship, I'm allowed to sell programs I've written. I'm allowed to work as a programmer for a company while I attend school. Why are athletic scholarships different?

    March 21, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply
  32. miguel r. serda, jr.

    true, but don't they get an opportunity for a free education, housing, food, medial attention, use of a fancy automobile and sex? that's if they even attend classes or learn how to read and write? and all just to play a child's game and gather national attention for a future in the n.b.a.

    March 21, 2014 at 7:39 am | Reply
    • Tony

      This free education that everyone keeps bringing up cost the universities far less then what they take in. The profits should be split among the athletic directors, coaches and their staff and the players. The amount of the players scholarship should be deducted form their pay. Until this happens the schools should not has exclusive right to their image/likeness as it pertains to their playing days for ever, for eternity as it is stated in the contract that the athletics most sign before the can play.

      April 7, 2014 at 10:31 am | Reply

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