In the United States, and increasingly around the world, college sports represents a billon dollar industry. Each year, events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and football bowl season are watched by millions, and with these viewers come significant amounts of sponsorship and marketing deals (Sallee, 2018). The money spent by fans of college sports often ends up in the hands of corporations that profit off this interest, with some going to the universities and even staffs of various college athletic teams; the highest paid person at a majority of universities is the football coach. However, none of this revenue ever makes it to the individuals who are providing this entertainment: student athletes. In fact, according to National College Athletics Association (NCAA) guidelines, it is directly prohibited for any student athlete to profit while remaining enrolled at a university. Because the current prohibition of paid student athletes is at best an outdated oversight, and at worst, a direct exploitation of college students that would violate most labor laws, college athletes should be paid. The following research evaluates how student athletes face unnecessary financial restrictions, and why paying these athletes at least a minimal wage would be a much more equitable option.

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Student athletes bring in millions to their communities, to their schools, and for various corporate sponsors (Bowen, 2014). As college sports have grown in popularity, the amount of money to be made off college sports have reached staggering numbers. However, college athletes are not able to be paid, and there are various restrictions in place to make sure that these athletes cannot profit in any way, even if they become nearly household names (Wilbon, 2011). For instance, an athlete may not sell his or her own merchandise, nor can he or she receive any sort of monetary benefit for being associated with a college team. This means a famed college star cannot simply sign jerseys to make ends meet; similarly, another athlete cannot even receive a free sandwich from a local deli. These laws are unnecessarily repressive in their own right, but when a student athlete’s academic obligations are considered in addition to his or her athletic obligations, we can see how this becomes unnecessarily oppressive.

Student athletes have to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to be eligible for a team (Lemmons, 2017). They also have to train and practice regularly for their team. With the amount of time spent studying and practicing, there is no time available to get a job. This is the core of the issue; they have obligations they must fulfill, but are given no opportunity to fund their daily lives. Some may receive scholarships, but not all; and in many cases, a scholarship might cover tuition and a tiny dorm room, but nothing else.

Paying student athletes does not mean they should be paid excessive salaries, similar to what many professional athletes receive; even a minimum wage for the time students spend practicing or playing for a team could greatly improve the daily lives of many who otherwise face financial difficulties. When considering the amount of money that is often spent on expensive coaches and state-of-the-art facilities, the amount that would be paid to student athletes would easily be covered. The amount of ticket sales and merchandise alone would most likely cover any financial costs on behalf of the university. While it is true that only some sports are profitable for certain universities, the amount of revenue these popular teams generate could easily cover the non-profitable teams.

The main counterpoint to paying student athletes is that doing so would somehow ruin the integrity of college athletics. This is also an outdated and somewhat unrealistic position to take; college sports have exploded in popularity, and many teams have national audiences. Many students also attend college specifically for the opportunity to eventually turn pro. Big business is already a part of college sports; paying student athletes a minimal wage would hardly seem to ruin the integrity of the sport. This argument would perhaps have merit if student athletes were being compensated millions of dollars like their professional counterparts, but no one is suggesting this. The only understandable argument as to why student athletes should not be paid is because everyone else who profits might make a little less, but this is not a valid alternative from an ethical perspective.

Student athletes deserve to be paid, because they are responsible for generating millions for their universities, communities, and any corporate interests attached to college sports. Ethically, this appears unfair and exploitative. The restrictions against any financial benefit are too severe; athletes often have to work while also attending practice and studying for exams. The expectation that a student athlete will have enough time for all three commitments is unrealistic. While some may object to paying student athletes, this is an outdated and unrealistic view that does not seem to understand the current state of college sports, particularly in regard to its media popularity. Therefore, student athletes should be paid because it is the most equitable and ethical thing to do.  

  • Bowen, F. (2014). Should college athletes get paid? The Washington Post. Accessible online at
  • Lemmons, M. (2017). College athletes getting paid? The Huffington Post. Accessible online at
  • Sallee, B. (2018). Want to pay college athletes? Start with legitimate endorsement deals. CBS Sports. Accessible online at
  • Wilbon, M. (2011). College athletes deserve to be paid. ESPN. Accessible online at