Policy Point--Counterpoint: Are Colleges and Universities Obligated to Provide Student-athletes with Additional Compensation beyond Tuition, Room, and Board?

Author:Bertolas, Randy

Each year in the U.S., almost half a million student-athletes participate in one or more of the two dozen sports offered at the college and university level. (1) Founded in 1906 with the supposed aim of protecting young people from dangerous and exploitive athletic practices, (2) the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) today works with 1,281 higher learning institutions to oversee standards applied to athlete recruitment, competition, and benefits. Division III schools are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships, and the NCAA closely monitors for potential scholarship violations. A small percentage of Division I and II athletes receive scholarships that pay for all or part of their expenses. Most student-athletes, however, will receive no more than partial--if any--benefits to defray the costs of attending college. Only a tiny fraction of currently enrolled student-athletes will ever sign a professional contract.

Annually, the NCAA takes in a little over $1 billion in revenue, mostly from sponsorship of the Men's Division I Basketball Tournament (popularly known as March Madness) via ticket sales and television contracts. This billion dollar amount includes $160 million per year in "cost-of-attendance" benefits, stipends added to certain major sports program scholarship packages in 2015 as a consequence of two lawsuits filed against the NCAA. (3) Most of these monies are returned to colleges and universities in the form of sports scholarships. (4) Added to that, university sports programs also make money from donations and licensing rights and fees. (5) Today, however, no more than 2 percent of high school athletes receive scholarship money to play intercollegiate sports. So-called "full-ride" scholarships are especially rare, and are only granted to students in six out of the twenty-four sports sponsored by the NCAA.

The NCAA claims non-profit status and does not provide athletes with any aid beyond tuition, some health insurance, room, and board (and sometimes fees and books). Profits stemming from the performance of college athletes does accrue among many other individuals, however, including coaches, administrators, conference commissioners, and bowl officials. Indeed, the head men's football or basketball coach at the major land grant university in most states often receives greater monetary compensation than any other public employee in that state. Moreover, at some universities, coaches are rewarded with monetary incentives built into their contracts if players they supervise meet goals such as winning individual titles or conference championships. (6) Furthermore, athletic directors and some assistant athletic directors also receive financial bonuses tied to team or individual accomplishments, even in sports where their direct involvement is only tangential. The rationale is that these administrators are being additionally compensated for overseeing the development of conditions which led to successful performance outcomes.

The question frequently arises in college athletics as to whether or not athletes should be considered as employees and, thus, eligible to receive benefits above and beyond the basic necessities required to attend school. In this vein, distinctions are often made between the value created (for the university) by athletes involved in revenue sports as opposed to those participating in non-revenue competition. The tenets of...

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