Compensate UT athletes beyond scholarships

Article I wrote for the Daily Texan

In recent years, major university athletic programs have made millions off the achievements of their student-athletes. Many student-athletes receive a full-ride scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition and housing, but the university still gets all the revenue from jersey sales, ticket sales, television broadcasts and collegiate trademark licensing. Some argue that the trade-off is not fair — what the players put into the system (long practice hours, yearly dedication, mandatory workouts, strict diets and on-field success) exceeds the value of their full-ride scholarships, which players contend do not cover all college-related expenses. Others believe that players are compensated enough through their athletic scholarships and should not receive any additional money.

UT’s athletes should receive additional monetary compensation so that all of their college expenses (and even more, if possible) are covered. Not only are they under pressure to do well in class, but they also have to perform well on the field, because their athletic scholarships are not guaranteed for four years. The current scholarship amount is not enough to pay for all college-related expenses, and between school and sports, student-athletes do not have time for paid employment to make up the difference.

Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, aims to help, but only to a point. He supports a proposal to "allow conferences to increase grants to student-athletes by $2,000, to more closely approach the full cost of attending college, beyond the athletic scholarships given for tuition, fees, room, board and books."

However, when asked whether that amounts to monetary compensation for athletic performance, Emmert backed off. "If we move toward a pay-for-play model — if we were to convert our student-athletes to employees of the university — that would be the death of college athletics," Emmert told the New York Times’ Joe Nocera. "Then they are subcontractors. Why would you even want them to be students? Why would you care about their graduation rates? Why would you care about their behavior?"

This sums up the main argument against paying college athletes — that it would effectively destroy the value of the degrees they’re ostensibly pursuing. However, under the system currently in place, they are little more than an inexhaustible supply of highly profitable indentured laborers.

Universities and television networks have cashed in on society’s fixation with sports. Last year, the University of Texas and ESPN closed a deal in which UT would make even more money (an additional $11 million a year) through a UT-exclusive Longhorn Network to cover its sporting events.

The Longhorn Network deal will give the school an estimated $300 million over the next 20 years, but it exists only because of the huge popularity of UT’s athletic programs — especially its football team. According to a 2011 Forbes report titled "College Football’s Most Valuable Teams," Texas made $71 million in profit from its football program that year, more than any other university. Clearly, people are willing to pay big money to watch amateurs play football. UT does not have a problem with making money off of its athletic programs, so the student-athletes responsible for these profits shouldn’t have to spend their own money on college expenses.

Beyond the scholarship increase, student-athletes should receive royalties, so that whenever UT uses an athlete’s likeness and makes a monetary gain, the player will receive a percentage of the profit. This would give players extra motivation to perform well and add to an already large fan base, which would increase sales of UT merchandise. When someone buys a jersey with the number 14 on it, they do it because that’s David Ash’s number, so why not let him receive a portion of the sale?

It is time for the players to receive their fair share.

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