On paying student athletes

Photo courtesy of Libby Malcolm

Football game days. Men’s basketball game days. Women’s basketball game days. Volleyball game days. Practices. Workouts. Appearances. This is what it looks like to be a cheerleader at Tech. And this is my life since I became a Yellow Jacket in 2017.

Athletes all have their own rigorous sports schedules on top of academics. No two players are alike but all are equal in overcommitment to their life as an athlete. There has always been whispers of “what if’s” when it comes to the topic of NCAA athletes getting compensated for their collegiate performance. But why has this not happened? Well I am glad you asked. Let us unpack this further.

To begin with, while most of the funds athletic programs receive go to the coaching staff and athletic directors, this is their full-time job. In comparison, student-athletes are not spending 40+ hours a week solely on their respective sport. In addition, playing sports in college should be seen as a privilege and not a job. 

While yes, most student-athletes make their college decision based upon the athletics of the school or the team itself, they are still there for education as their “nine to five job.” Even more so at Tech, a key differentiator from most other colleges is that you have to get into the Institute first before your athletic capabilities can come into play. If Tech athletes were to be paid this would diminish the prestige of their degree when they graduate. 

Before I go any further, I think it is important to point out the fact that student-athletes still are being financially recognized through scholarships. This is the best approach to giving student-athletes that value-add feeling but also bringing together the alumni community of every college to pour into the current athletes with sponsored scholarships. 

This builds community. This builds a network of Tech enthusiasts past and present and helps shape the future of the school’s athletics. These scholarships are ultimately a gift, and if instead of scholarships students were paid there would not be the same level of gratitude expressed by players worldwide for their opportunity to be in the position they are in, on the team they are on and ultimately at the school they are at. 

According to a New York Times article, Californian Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill to go into effect in 2023 to allow college athletes to receive endorsements and have their own hired agents. Their argument is that college sport industries are generating too much revenue in comparison to the wear and tear being put on the athletes. But backtrack a second and recall that the students made the choice to be on the team. 

And at the end of the day, student-athletes are at school with the rest of the students to get a degree. Not all collegiate athletes are even good enough to make it to the next level. Why compensate these athletes that are not going to make it to the pros and giving them false hope of their careers continuing? Instead, let them live their dream of college athletics, and let the professional leagues decide whether or not they should be paid. 

Plus, according to the NCAA, “This directly contradicts the mission of college sports within higher education — that student-athletes are students first and choose to play a sport they love against other students while earning a degree.” 

Is change necessary and appropriate with the day and age we are in? Yes. But it is important to remember the mission of the NCAA when making these changes and not lose sight of the primary reason for going to college — getting your diploma and getting to say, “I got out!”