Pay Athletes? No, Thanks

Jason's Back

How many times have you sunk into bed after a rough day of classes, and let out in exasperation, "They should pay me for working so hard!"?

Never? Exactly. The notion of paying college students for their efforts is obviously ludicrous. We pay for the privilege of learning and shaping our minds.

College athletes, however? That's different story.

At certain institutions, sports assume an economic and social significance that few Ivy Leaguers can relate to. Millions of dollars are generated for the institution as result of merchandise sales, tickets and advertising.

You don't hear this argument at Harvard because, quite frankly , the demand for sports simply isn't as great. It's JFK and E.O. Wilson that define Harvard, not Tammy Butler and Steve Martins.

Paying student-athletes a portion of the revenues generated by their own sporting events seems on the surface a fair and practical idea, It is the athletes, after all, who really make the money; why shouldn't they also be entitled to a piece of it?

Many also claim that such salaries would clean up the behind-the-scenes, illegal rewarding of athletes by athletes directors and alumni, I have a friends at Purdue who says that Glenn Robinson, The multi-million dollar Milwaukee Buck forward, was driving a Range Rover with a leather interior while at college, despite coming from an incredibly poor family. Go figure.

Paying college athletes might seem practical on the surface. But it would be a potentially fatal blunder.

Consider just how tarnished the image of college has become. For many young athletes, college has ceased to represent any form of academic standard whatsoever. Some openly announce their intentions to quit school after a year or two, without any pretense that they will finish their degree someday. To them, college is just a place to showcase their talents for pro teams, with an occasional frat party thrown in for good measure.

What would happen to this image if they received a paycheck in their lockers directly after leaving the court?

I'm not blaming these individuals. After all, it's not their fault that they're wooed and enticed by scouts from high school promising big bucks and fast living; they're merely byproducts of a larger system that places and incredible premium on marketable athletic talent.

I also understand why a large number of college athletes, who grew up in underprivileged neighborhoods, would gladly jump at the chance for financial security, along with the glamour and fast living of professional sports. I'd likely do the same myself, if I were in their shoes.

But something simply must be done, on the part of both universities and athletes, to ensure that this total lack of respect for college does not escalate out of control. The awarding of a salary to these individuals would be the final indication that college has indeed progressed, or regressed, from a place of higher learning to a business.

By extending the offer of an education as well as venue in which to play sports, colleges are already performing an enormous service to young student-athletes. In the event that they blow out a knee on a drive to the hoop, their college degree will make it likely that they will be able to have some sort of life outside the lines. That's privilege enough in itself.

It may be impossible to expect student-athletes to complete their degree with multi-million dollar contracts staring them in the face.

But, more importantly, it is absolutely vital that the nation's universities remain true to their principles of academics first, everything else second. Even if its just an ideal, it's one that's too important to stop believing in.