Should student-athletes be paid? One from TU weighs in.

The NCAA’s failures will not change if student-athletes are paid salaries.

Paying student-athletes is akin to legalizing steroid use. To air out the corruption only instigates deeper scandal and exploitation. Much has come into the light recently. The NCAA basketball scandal has invigorated the conscience in every armchair sports-philosopher this side of the asteroid belt. They cry that the moral compass of our society, and its entertainment, have lost their magnetic bearings. They throw out lots of verbs and adjectives that don’t express anything of pragmatic importance. The college sports world has reincarnated “apology” in its classical definition as a “defense.”

The scandal, as with everything else, comes down to money. The question that follows the unethical recruiting process is: should universities pay college athletes? Would this have any effect on the ethics of the system if the citizens are already morally bankrupt? Relative to the life of the average individual, all of this discourse echoes in an empty chamber. Why should we, American citizens, have any vested interest in this argument anyways?

This could possibly be seen as a microcosm of a dystopian world of competition for scarce resources, those resources being premier high school athletes. The system concerns itself only with the propagation of its material prosperity. It must consume athletes rapidly, violently, authoritatively or risk its livelihood.

Citizens of the United States value liberty and equality. A system so aggressively hierarchical as the NCAA, an extreme meritocracy yet a fascist monopoly, is inherently flawed because it retains the failures of opposite systems. This calls for reconsideration, seeing as this industry happens to be one of the most culturally significant institutions in the last century. It bears the title “nonprofit,” yet it is perhaps one of the most profitable operations in the world.

The other criticism of the NCAA is its compromise of higher education. The university system now acts as a symbiote for a massive entertainment conglomerate. The inherent merit of sports is lost when undergirded by a fascination for achievement at all costs. The focus of universities soon becomes to profit from athletics, and slowly, they begin to dismiss academics. Student-athletes are falsely schooled by façade classes and tutors. Athletics does not only imperil itself, it imperils the university’s ethics as a whole. It is necessary for this picture to be drawn before discussing the possibilities of student-athletes being paid salaries.

The NCAA’s arguments against this proposition have been numerous, some as ludicrous as saying they do not have enough money to pay athletes. Normally, it is to preserve the “amateur status” of student-athletes. For some strange reason, the NCAA sees itself as a moral force which believes in a sort of athlete virginity and clasps on the chastity belt for one to three years before the pure bride can be wed. The moral duty to preserve the innocence of athletes from who knows what until maturity should be of no concern to any entity outside of the familial construct, unless of course there are boatloads of money involved.

As a student-athlete, the prospect of a salary for the hefty part time job undertaken is mouthwatering to consider. Yet what would the landscape of college sports look like? Allowing the best athletes to advance on to professionalism would eliminate the threat to the higher education system. The NCAA immediately loses big dollars, because they are in competition with the professional world. So the second-tier athletes, amongst whom only a select few would advance to professionalism, have vast salaries flaunted at them by universities who have pleaded with boosters to donate more and more money. (No problem though, because they already enact this covertly. In the open air, it would be simply trimming the hedges).

Where are the oppressed, the proletariat in this system? The Group of Five universities and walk-ons would be obliterated. The chasm separating the bourgeois Power Five from the proletariat Group of Five would be stricken only wider. Unless an athlete chooses principle over material, more likely than not the best athletes will always engage with the most money. Then the question would be: what are the market restrictions? Could the NCAA feasibly attempt a free market system in which money rules all? Would they ever give up that power in the first place? No, of course not, but we must consider these possibilities to find the proper conclusion. The NCAA would surely enforce a cap upon universities for the maximum amount of salaries issued in a given year. This does not matter to the majority of the universities except for the top twenty or so who would have enough money that they could probably double the cap.

Inherently, the system is unequal and will continue to be so. It is a game, especially to those at the top of the pyramid who gamble with enough excess cash to make a middle-class citizen sick. Paying student-athletes would only exacerbate a corrupt system. All of the same underhanded dealings would occur, only with more money upfront.
Student-athletes should be paid, but for being athletes. Remove the student from the title. The age of the renaissance figure is past. Professionalize younger athletics and separate them from higher education. Enforcing education on unwilling participants defeats even a common sense understanding of epistemology. Increasing the cost of living stipend is an effective solution that would make athlete “wages” similar to work-study. Until academics and athletics are not unified, for the love of all that is good, do not pay student-athletes. Expect the best from people, punish the worst and strive to make the collegiate athletic association an institution of principle and not material.

Post Author: Thomas von Borstel