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The athlete, or the university?

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Wisconsin Badgers forward Nate Reuvers (35) scores the first field goal of the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Feb. 23, 2020 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. (John Fisher/CSM/Zuma Press/TNS)

Whether or not college athletes deserve to be paid for playing their sport is a topic that has been relevant for as long as college athletics have been popular. 

Recently, for the first time ever, actual steps by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) have been taken toward seeing something done about this issue.

After meeting, discussing, and voting on the topic in early Oct. 2019, the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted unanimously in favor of moving toward paying student-athletes.

Although many are in favor of this transition, some are strongly opposed to it, noting that they feel student-athletes get more than fully reimbursed for playing their sport through what their university provides for them. It is argued that their degree, the way that the schools market their name and likeness, and the connections that the athletes make while in school all more than cover whatever the students would have made off of ticket or jersey sales.

This is often true in cases where athletes are playing on full-ride scholarships, or where they go on to get drafted and play professionally. The money they make after graduating or leaving their school dwarfs what they would have made as a college student.

Those who argue in favor of paying students typically argue that if you do the work and are making money for your college, you deserve a piece of the pie. Not paying student-athletes when the entire focus of college athletics is on the athlete is not right.

The biggest issue with this discussion is that both sides have solid arguments. Students who are attending school on a full-ride scholarship are definitely getting fully reimbursed for the work that they put in while attending their university.

On the other hand, as the catalysts that drive the billion-dollar industry that is college sports, having athletes not receive any of that revenue is ridiculous.

Given that both sides have solid reasoning backing their arguments, the debates surrounding this topic can get heated. 

Meanwhile, as the debate over this issue rages on, there are student-athletes who moved far away from home to chase their dream of being a college athlete at a big-time school. Students who are not having their education paid for through a scholarship. Students who are practicing their craft with every spare moment they have, working twice as hard as others just to keep up with their competition. Students who have no time to work a normal job because, for them, their sport is their job. Students who will be unable to pay for a plane ticket home over winter break and will be stranded at school while the university shuts down for a month, unable to legally receive any handouts from people affiliated with the school out of fear of expulsion due to a violation of NCAA protocol. A student who will now be buried under a mountain of debt with nothing to their name except a degree that is significantly less valuable than it ever has been before.

Are you more concerned about the university losing out on being able to profit off of the back of their student-athletes? 

Or are you worried about that kid who can’t make it home on the holidays because they have no money, and the job that they’re working refuses to compensate them for the work that they do?

The NCAA seems to be on the side of their athletes. 

The importance of a university being able to profit off of a student-athlete shouldn’t be as important as that same student being able to live off of the work that he does for the university. Shifting the focus of this discussion is a gross disservice to the human beings that are being most directly affected by this issue.

While approaching this issue, don’t side with the millionaire-to-be athletes that this won’t matter to in six months. Don’t side with the billion-dollar universities that make tens of thousands of dollars off of everyone who steps onto their campus. Side with the athlete who has nothing, and will continue to have nothing unless the way the NCAA views these human beings shifts significantly.