A recent poll reveals that Americans believe that student-athletes should get paid
The GIST: Should college athletes be paid? That’s the question a joint Sportico and Harris Poll study posed, ultimately revealing that 67% of Americans believe student-athletes should be compensated by their schools, once again bringing up the complex college sports conversation. Let’s dive in.
The background: Considering the obscene amount of money involved in college athletics, it’s easy to see why so many people support direct compensation for student-athletes. The NCAA earned $1.15B in 2021, with each of the Power Five conferences earning over $480M in 2022 — that’s a payout of $37M to $58M per school.
- It does cost a lot to run an athletic department, however. Travel, venue upkeep, and full-time and gameday employees are all part of the college sports business. Scholarships play into universities’ costs, too — roughly 180K are distributed to NCAA athletes each year, with the average DI scholarship sitting around $15K.
The NIL angle: Among self-identified college sports fans, the study found a massive 78% supported athletes receiving compensation in addition to name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals. Originally, NIL was introduced as an alternative to pay-for-play college athletics, but lately seems more like an excuse for the NCAA and schools to not pay athletes themselves. Typical!
- NIL isn’t perfect, either. The industry is largely unregulated, is a potential threat to parity between schools, and has seen women student-athletes underrepresented in deals, despite putting up impressive numbers.
The employee argument: The study also revealed that 64% of Americans favored employment status for student-athletes. Early last year, labor charges were filed against the NCAA, Pac-12, and specific universities by USC and UCLA athletes. And in June of this year, California passed a bill that opened the door for schools to pay their athletes. West Coast, best coast.
Lingering questions: But how would paying student-athletes actually work? Pro sports are businesses, with leagues bringing in their own revenue and players earning individual salaries. Employment contracts are based on skill level, productivity, and revenue generated. When it comes to college, revenue across the NCAA’s two dozen sports varies tremendously.
- Would Title IX force universities to pay all athletes equitably? Would the starting quarterback or women’s basketball star get paid the same as a backup on the women’s water polo squad or men’s volleyball team?
- In pro sports, that’s unheard of. Leagues are independent companies that can spend revenue as they please, but in college athletics, teams and schools have to answer to the NCAA and Title IX.
- Questions aside, this survey shows the tide of public opinion is turning and that the majority of Americans think it's time for the NCAA to pay up. Money, please!