There were two very interesting happenings last week in the world of college athletics. The first is something you probably already have some awareness. The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board has stated that the football players at Northwestern University, located in suburban Chicago, have a right to explore whether or not they would like to form a union.
The second story, a little closer to home, you may not have any awareness. Logan Steiber, a wrestler at Ohio State University recently was named a National Champion in the 141 pound weight class; for all of Logan’s hard work, the university’s athletic director, Gene Smith, received a bonus of $18,000. Both of these stories illustrate in different ways how the debate on whether student athletes should be paid for their performance is becoming worthy of a discussion.
I will admit, on its face, the idea of paying student athletes is odd. These young men and women have an opportunity to have something very few people are able to achieve, a college degree with very little college debt. Being athletically blessed and having years of dedication to a sport are both wonderful and a free education should be more than enough to compensate for all that hard work.
However, modern American society is showing how this system of a free education in return for athletic talent is an equation in which the student athlete is losing. Before our very eyes, we are seeing a system where the hard work put forward by these student athletes hold more value for the institution, the administrators and the coaches involved. Case in point? See the second paragraph of this story where Gene Smith, the Ohio State University Athletic Director received an $18,000 bonus for one the school’s wrestlers to win a championship; I guess if the student athlete can’t get a performance bonus, it has to go to someone, right?
So many times, these student athletes have no control over their time and their lives. Either their coaches or administrators keep close tabs on them and then there are volumes of NCAA rules that must be followed as well. I doubt any student athlete has the real ability to hold any type of employment during school to help make ends meet; even if they did, I am certain there is some type of NCAA rule against it.
Paying these student athletes modest amounts for their efforts is an idea that deserves merit. Especially at a time when coaches and administrators appear to be the one’s benefitting from their hard work. Ohio State University pays it’s head football coach, Urban Meyer at least $4 million a year to coach the team; the NCAA is going to generate over $10 billion in revenue for the media rights to all their contests.
Many people hold collegiate athletics to be a pure form of athletic pursuits. People will bemoan the greediness of the professional athlete and the excessive amounts of their contracts. The reality is college athletics is just as flush with cash, especially those programs that demand the large media contracts such as football and men’s basketball. Given the proliferation of cable channels dedicated to sports programming, I am sure we will see television contracts for lacrosse, gymnastics, swimming and other sports. All of this leading to more and more money to the coaches, the administrators, the schools, the conferences, the NCAA; everyone except the actual athlete that everyone wants to watch.
The fact is, a clear majority of these student athletes will not be professional athletes. They will not have the ability to cash in on their athletic pursuits on a larger stage. I understand that these students are getting a free education; but let’s face it, as fans or followers of these teams we care less about the “scholar” part of the scholar-athlete part of the equation. I am sure a fair number of people could rattle off the position of their favorite college athlete; I bet only a few could name their major.
It’s time to pay these athletes. They earn quite a bit of money for the schools they represent and everyone else involved with these programs benefit; it’s only fair that they benefit as well.
William (Bill) Lutz is a Miami County resident