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Berginski: Should college athletes get paid?

By Staff | Apr 4, 2014

My brother, Brett, plays basketball, football, baseball and golf, so sports is an often-broached subject between him and me. (Actually, more often than not he talks and I just kind of nod, but you get the point.) This week, one of the subjects of our sports conversations was the Northwestern University football team.

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board said that these football players could unionize. The NLRB Chicago office director Peter Sung Ohr said they can because, in a way, they are “employees”; they perform services for their employer (play sports under a coach), receive compensation (scholarships) and are “subject to their employers’ control” (their coach can sideline them). There’s no doubt about it being a historic event, one that could pave the way for other teams (like the NDSU Bison football team, for example) should they want to unionize.

If these players are fully allowed to unionize, they will be able to demand medical care and more concussion testing – things I think they should definitely get. (Football, as my bro says, “is not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport”, after all.) But they would also be able to demand cuts of what the school is making off them. The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) currently prohibits college athletes from receiving any other form of monetary compensation than scholarships.

Which brings up an interesting question, should college athletes be paid? I’ve got a better question: For what should college athletes be paid?

Should they be paid to play sports in general? On the one hand they do put in lots of hours in their sports – practices, training, games, etc. They also risk injury every time they go out on the field or court and play. But then again, they are college students. A theater major doesn’t get paid for being in a play, nor do music majors get paid for playing in concerts. An education should be paramount. If students wanted to just play sports in college, athletics would almost have to be an academic program. (Of course, what job could one get out of school with that kind of degree? Only 1.7 percent of college football players go pro, according to NCAA stats.)

While we’re on the subject of being paid to play sports, if that were the case, then ALL the athletes would have to be paid. I doubt anyone would want to violate Title IX just because (insert random college/university here) has volleyball, softball and women’s basketball teams that don’t get ESPN coverage.

Should they be paid for the use of their names/likenesses? In my opinion, yes. Right now I could go home, fire up my XBox 360 and play as Johnny Manziel in the latest NCAA football video game. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) Should “Mr. Football” be paid to go through motion capture, or even because his face is plastered on the cover of said game? Yes, unless there’s something that says otherwise. If it were me, I’d want my cut.

If the topic of debate is whether or not college athletes should be paid, it’s a broad, and also wrong question to ask.

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