16 Reasons College Athletes should be Paid (And 5 Against)

pros and cons of paying college athletes, explained below

College athletes should be paid because they bring a substantial amount of money into their colleges, boost admission rates, put in full-time hours, and do not have the time to get a full-time job on top of their sport.

And yet, ridiculously, in many sports, it’s illegal to pay college athletes because it’s considered amateur sports.

These are the overarching reasons for which student athletes should be paid. However, there are several more that are justified below. 

Reasons Why College Athletes Should be Paid

1. Student athletes bring in money

College sports bring in tremendous amounts of money. Football, basketball, and baseball, in particular, generate billions of dollars a year for colleges in ticket sales, merchandise sales, and advertisements. 

Considering the massive revenue generated for colleges because of the student athletes, it only makes sense to pay them for their time, commitment, and energy.

As the system currently operates, it may be argued that college athletes are being exploited. college athletics is the main avenue into professional sports. Thus, the athletes need to go through college athletics even if the pay is low or non-existent. As a result, they feel they have little choice but to put in free labor for the colleges.

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2. No time for a part-time job

Not all college athletes have the bank of mom and dad to back them up. Many college athletes are admitted into colleges on scholarships and have little extra money to support themselves.

Living costs such as rent, food, and textbooks add up so many students find part-time employment to cover these costs. 

For college athletes, a part-time job really isn’t an option. College athletics take up a significant amount of time and are extremely physically and mentally demanding on top of college classes.

Many athletes therefore struggle to make ends meet even though they work day in and day out. 

3. Transparency about revenues generated

College sports teams have budgets so there is some degree of knowledge as to where money is coming from and how much of it there is. However, the details are extremely murky, and athletes are often kept in the dark. 

As a result, there is no guarantee that the sports teams will see the money they have brought in re-invested in their sport.

In other word, the athletes are bringing money into the colleges that is being redirect – often to inappropriate expenditures.

In fact, there have been several scandals now whereby certain college shareholders have used sports-generated funds inappropriately or even for personal gain. 

4. Brings better athletes (higher incentive)

College sports are already incredibly competitive but add the element of payment into the mix, and the bar will raise even higher.

Many star athletes choose not to pursue their sport in college for the simple reason that it isn’t paid.

Payment would raise the incentive so the caliber would be even higher than it currently stands.

In fact, if the college athletics system changed, it may increase participation in sports overall meaning the pool of possible stars will grow.

5. Renowned sports teams increase college admissions 

College sports do not just bring in revenue. They also attract students, which is another reason the athletes are valuable labor for the college.

There have been many instances of an average college (academically speaking) cultivating a champion sports team and therefore college applications skyrocket.

Further, once a college has a more competitive applicant pool and a renowned reputation, it can raise tuition fees. Thus, college sports can generate money for the school both directly and even indirectly. 

6. Athletics are expensive

Playing a sport or doing an athletic activity at a college level usually means the athlete has dedicated a significant portion of their life and personal money to that skill.

In other words, you have to be very good to pursue a sport in college which means you have put in the work to get that good. 

Athletics can be expensive and for a student to have practiced to the degree required to make it into college means that they have likely invested a fair amount of money over time.

Students should be paid if they are playing full-time in college as they have invested the resources to be there and should reap the rewards of that investment.

7. College athletes put in the same hours as a full-time job 

Considering the hours of practice, games, travel, and physical and mental maintenance, the time commitment can be equal to that of a full-time job. 

If someone is putting in the same hours as a full-time job which means they cannot get a job on top of their sport (as explained in point #2) then surely they should be paid for their time commitment.  

8. Players bring in merch money

Another point about revenue generation is that merchandisers capitalize not only on teams but on specific players. For instance, if the top college football quarterback wears the number 14 then merchandisers will intentionally produce more merch with this number. 

Thus, particular players are generating huge profits and often receive nothing monetary in return. 

And it’s big money – NCAA merchandise deals are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are even stories about college athletes freelancing on the side by simply offering to go and do talks or meet-ups with fans who are willing to pay the athletes for their time. But, they’re still often unable to profit from the jerseys that have their own names on them!

9. College athletes should have a safety net in case they cannot go pro 

Not every college athlete goes on to play in the NBA or the NFL and makes millions of dollars a year.

Those that graduate and do not make it into the professional realm of their sport are left with little to restart their lives on, particularly if their grades have slipped because of their commitment to their sport.

Most college athletes spend their entire childhood and adolescence working on their sport and then graduate college with few other skills. If college athletes were paid, then at least they would have a nest egg to live on while they figure out their next steps. 

10. College coaches are paid handsomely 

If you consider the situation closely, it seems strange that college sports teams are populated by students who are unpaid but are coached by professionals who are paid extremely well.

Without the athletes, there would be no team for the coach to coach so it seems unfair and frankly, confusing why one key stakeholder would be paid while the others wouldn’t.

For the sake of fairness, you would expect the revenues to be more evenly spread around all the people in the team.

11. The sport causes damage to their bodies

Sports like football cause serious damage to athletes’ bodies. Many can only play into their early 30s.

As a result, every year of their career is highly valuable and extremely important. While most white-collar jobs enable people to continue working in the profession into your mid-60s, these athletes are going to need to make a lot of their lifetime income in the span of about 10-20 years.

This makes the fact that they’re underpaid for several years of their careers even more unfair.

12. They are free media exposure for the schools

College athletics generates a lot of media exposure for schools. In fact, if it weren’t for college basketball and football, a lot of schools would never make it onto the television.

And yet, thanks to college athletics, schools have excellent media exposure that often presents them at their best: stadiums of fans wearing the college’s colors, cheering on their school.

This media exposure makes the colleges household names and inspires many young people to want to go to those colleges, even from a very young age.

13. It’s often an issue of racial justice

A significant number of college footballers and basketballers are young Black Americans. By contrast, the vast majority of the coaches are white.

The visuals of a team of young black athletes being underpaid and unpaid for their labor isn’t great for the colleges’ attempts at achieving racial justice. This is even more stark when we see how much the white coaches are paid. The coaches, after all, aren’t putting their bodies on the line.

14. They are expected to do extracurricular tasks

College athletes do more than training and playing. They often have to turn up for media appearances and college events throughout the year.

This makes the fact that they’re unpaid even more egregious. The hours they put into extracurricular and co-curricular activities should be paid – just like a job. For example, if an employee is expected to turn up to an event, they would rightly expect payment for their time.

15. They generate school spirit

Sports is perhaps the number one way schools generate spirit and a sense of community. The college and its supporters come together to cheer on their team.

This school spirit may be considered an intangible benefit to the school, but it has many flow-on benefits. It enhances the college’s image, motivates students, and increases the students’ satisfaction with their college experience.

A college with a buzz and a positive school spirit can lead to positive word-of-mouth reviews and attract future students.

16. They generate corporate sponsorships

Without college athletes, corporate sponsorships for colleges will never happen. Here is just another way in which they generate money for colleges without compensation.

Corporations sponsor teams that are successful and that have a great image. The sponsorship allows the corporation to generate positive attitudes toward their brand by association with the athletes.

If only a bit of the corporate sponsorship went toward paying the athletes, who often appear in the ads or next to the brand names on t-shirts and posters, then the athletes could have a much better standard of living.

Are there Arguments Against Paying College Athletes?

Some key arguments against paying college athletes are:

  • They get scholarships: Most college athletes get a full ride scholarship, which is highly valuable and a form of payment for their labor. Nevertheless, they generally don’t get any monetary benefits that they can put in the bank for their futures.
  • They don’t have to do it if they don’t want: If the athletes didn’t see a net benefit out of competing in college athletics, they wouldn’t do it. No one is forcing them into it! (Of course, the fact that it’s just about the only path to a career as an elite athlete makes it appear to be some degree of coercion).
  • They get great training: The athletes get access to excellent coaches that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. These coaches are world-class and expensive for the schools to hire. This is a form of non-monetary payment.
  • It’s their chance to get seen: The athletes also get a benefit in the form of visibility to scouts. They get their name out there, get watched performing their sport, and get an opportunity to eventually get a contract that will be extremely lucrative. This is another great non-monetary benefit that the college is providing for the athletes.
  • They will be paid handsomely afterward: If the athletes get a contract, it would likely be a million-dollar-plus contract that will make up for the lack of pay during their early years at college.


College athletes work extremely hard and arguably, are not far behind their professional counterparts. Furthermore, they bring in a great deal of money and goodwill to the colleges they serve. At the end of the day, they’re providing labor to the colleges. So, it makes little sense that they are unpaid.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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