The pay for play debate in college athletics is one that has been going on for many years, but every once in a while, an incident happens that sparks the debate all over again.
On Wednesday, Duke’s star basketball player Zion Williamson suffered a knee injury after his foot blew through the bottom of his shoe forcing him to take an awkward fall. Williamson walked off under his own power, but his status remains uncertain after a diagnosed knee sprain.
Williamson is the projected No. 1 overall draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft and stands to make millions once in the NBA. But what if this injury turns into something more serious? He could’ve just thrown away an NBA career and a life-changing amount of money. Many pundits are now questioning if he should return or just call it quits until the draft.
The problem with this, however, is if he does decide to shut it down, there will undoubtedly be critics ready to crucify him for quitting on his team. In the fall of 2018, Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Nick Bosa suffered an injury. Rather than rehabbing and trying to get back for the end of the season, he decided to step away from Ohio State and focus on the NFL draft.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow talked about Bosa’s decision on ESPN’s First Take and said he would have rather seen him try to make it back for a possible playoff run. Tebow was passionate saying that’s what he would’ve done.
Bosa’s decision is one that many college athletes are faced with. Bosa, however, was in a position where his brother, Joey Bosa, is already in the NFL making millions and has the luxury of financial security. Most college athletes aren’t as fortunate though.
According to a 2013 Sporting News report, 86 percent of college athletes live below the poverty line. Some argue that college athletes should be grateful because they’re receiving a free education. While receiving a free education is undoubtedly an amazing opportunity, there are a number of holes in that thought process.
In a 2012 report by CBS, only 2 percent of college athletes receive a scholarship with the average being worth roughly $11,000. The average cost of a four-year public university for out of state students is $23,890 per year, or $95,560 for four years.
Basketball and football don’t offer partial scholarships, so for many of the athletes on these teams, they receive no scholarship money. In other sports, there are partial scholarships giving the athlete some financial relief, but most will graduate with a sizable debt accumulated.
Whether an athlete is on full-ride or no-ride, they’re not permitted to have a job. Their sport is a full-time job in which they receive no compensation. The NCAA does not allow its student athletes to work during the season. If they want to get a summer job, they have to receive permission from their school and the NCAA beforehand.
Be realistic though. If college athletes are flipping burgers during the summer instead of hitting the weights and practicing to get better and better each day, somebody will take their roster spot. In college baseball, the World Series goes to the end of June basically giving the athletes one month off before school starts back up in August. Realistically, no athlete is going to make enough money to last them a full year with a one-month summer job.
This brings us to the darker side of what happens when athletes don’t get paid. Many of these men and women have no money to go out with friends and grab a slice of pizza or go catch a movie. Again, 86 percent come from an impoverished background meaning that in all likelihood, mom and dad aren’t sending money for some weekend fun.
We’ve seen athletes in the past revert to illegal alternatives to get spending money or food. Probably the most famous case was 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. He was cited for stealing crab legs from a local grocery store. While being short on cash is in no way a justification of his actions or any other criminal activity committed by struggling college athletes, can we really be surprised?
College athletes at the Division I level make millions upon millions for their schools. Ticket sales, television contracts, sports apparel, the list goes on and on. EA Sports used to make college themed video games. The games used the player’s likenesses but didn’t include their names on the game. EA Sports was willing to pay the players for their likeness, but the NCAA shut it down and now there are no more collegiate sports video games.
Why is the NCAA so against their athletes making money? That question may never truly be answered, but I believe it all boils down to greed.
In that 2013 Sporting News article, they used the University of Texas football team and the Duke University basketball team to calculate what each player was worth to the school. Texas football players were valued at just over a half million dollars each while Duke basketball players were valued at over $1 million.
So tell me again why the NCAA can’t or shouldn’t pay their athletes. I’m not advocating for athletes to make millions while in college. But they should be compensated, even if it’s just $10,000 a semester. This would cut down on rules violations and non-violent crimes.
In the game Williamson was injured in against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Ken Griffey Jr. and former President Barack Obama were in attendance to see him. Duke can use this as a huge recruiting tool, not to mention the great publicity it gave the school. But will Williamson receive any kickback for bringing the school publicity, new fans, money and even more notoriety? No. He’ll get a pat on the back and a, “Thanks for all you’ve done for us.”
Williamson has a big decision to make in the coming weeks on whether or not he’s going to return. My guess is if he’s healthy, he will. But he shouldn’t. He should sit the rest of the year, get healthy and go make millions this summer. That won’t be a popular decision, but players have to do what’s in their best interest. The fact that basketball players even have to play one year in college is a ridiculous rule that needs to be abolished immediately. If they’re good enough to play in the NBA out of high school, then they should be allowed to.
This debate likely won’t end until the NCAA decides to pay its players, but their track record gives no indication that they will even consider that in the near future. But it’s time. Pay the players what they’re worth.