The other night, I was listening to my Wale station on Pandora Internet Radio and a song came on that I hadn’t heard before, titled “Varsity Blues.” Though catchy at first, the great beats were quickly drowned out by Wale zealously rapping an argument that has been exceedingly popular this past month — the mistreatment of student athletes.
With the conclusion of March Madness just a few weeks ago, this is the time of year the argument gains friction. Specifically, we debate whether or not student-athletes are treated fairly at big-name universities. Perhaps, if they are even treated as students at all.
In his song, Wale touches on one of the more disheartening arguments regarding the current state of college athletics: Universities with large sports programs have become huge exploiters of their student athletes, “immorally” using them for their own gain, ultimately, becoming factories over academies. Naturally, there is a warranted case to be made. It is impossible to ignore the copious reports regarding the manipulation of the academic standards and expectations for athletes, all in hope of ensuring their eligibility to play in the games.
With the surfacing of these unfortunate and even maddening reports, it is not surprising that Wale and advocates nationwide have proposed a seemingly obvious solution. However, the solution is drastically more troublesome than the original problem.
The solution of many is to pay college athletes. Though this may seem appealing and obvious at first, it is venomous to everything higher education represents.
It would be naive to say that student athletes are inseparable from the rest of the student body. Some would argue that athletes are different because of the unique time burden; however, that theory is dismantled when one considers the time burden actors, musicians, newspaper editors, and other students who dedicate themselves to various extra-curricular face. What is irrefutable, however, is the revenue they produce. Athletes are depicted as huge cash cows, while greedy universities hoard money at their expense. The unfortunate nature of this is what provokes such scrutiny.
However, the idea that athletes are completely uncompensated is a lie. Through full scholarships (tuition, room, and board), four years of a college education — an opportunity many student athletes would otherwise not be privileged enough to have — they are compensated tremendously. The total cost of four years at a private institution of higher learning can be within the $200,000 range. To be fair, though, this figure is exceptionally lower than the revenue the Big Ten schools create. But the argument that a student’s worth should be directly proportional to the money they conjure through athletics is a failure in understanding what academic institutions stand for.
When an institution of higher education places a tangible financial value on a student’s athletic contribution compared to that of a writer or engineer, they are giving higher value to the body than the mind — fundamentally undermining the whole premise of an academy.
The implied idea that non-athletic students have no tangible financial worth at a college is indefensible. Paying student athletes to reduce their embarrassing exploitation directly splinters the larger sense of a school’s identity. A college must never allow the injustices of the National Collegiate Athletic Association to infringe on its assessment of students. An academy, at its core, stands to do one thing: provide an education. And although many students access this service in different ways, we are all here to learn. And no action should ever be taken that would place athletics over academia, which would counter the premise of an intellectual institution.
Yet, the athletic system is still broken, students are still being exploited. Although paying them is not the solution, we mustn’t give up on looking for a fair compromise. But we must do so by finding a resolution that doesn’t inherently contradict what a college epitomizes. Perhaps looking to the NCAA to appropriately compensate student athletes for their name on a jersey, or in a videogame, or even a promotional advertisement. But certainly not compensation for being given the opportunity to learn.