Just a twenty-something living the dream, trying to check off the bucket list, one entry at a time
Note: As a journalism major, I’m taking an Opinion and Editorial Writing comm class. We write a column every other week for an entire semester, so I figured I’d start self-publishing them here. Enjoy!
Saturdays in the fall are sacred. Saturdays are the days I file into Beaver Stadium with my best friends. We pack into Beaver Stadium and spend hours on our feet cheering our football team to victory (sometimes).
Fan or not, the game is a major element of the Penn State culture and experience. Football players are some of the most recognizable students on campus. We buy their jerseys and paint their numbers on our faces before games. The Penn State football team is as known as many NFL teams. But there’s one difference. Collegiate players aren’t paid.
College athletes are held up as the true representatives of sports. They play not for the love of money, but for the love of the game. Recently there’s been more discussion whether college athletes should be paid.
It’s a legitimate question. At Penn State, according to a 2009 financial impact statement from the university, the football program had a business volume impact on Pennsylvania of $161.5 million. According to another article by Bleacher Report, in 2009-2010, the football program generated $70.2 million. Of that, $50.4 million was profit.
These are not insignificant numbers. And those numbers wouldn’t be possible without football players. Without football players, there would be no game-day ticket sales, no charging $2,000 for premium tailgate parking spots, no donations from the members of the Nittany Lion Club, no jerseys or likenesses to sell at the bookstore.
The argument for not paying players is simple. In order to be NCAA-eligible, college athletes can’t receive money for their skills. College athletes are students first and athletes second.
This sounds nice on paper, but in reality, the “students before athletes” attitude is less black and white. In 2010, players at Ohio State were sanctioned for exchanging memorabilia for tattoos and other perks, eventually being deemed bowl ineligible for the 2012 season.
Cam Newton, the quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, spent much of his 2010 season at Auburn amid allegations his father had negotiated with college teams for money in exchange for recruiting his son.
Again at Ohio State, in 2014, quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Player compensation isn’t new. It’s the sport’s most open secret. There’s certainly a case to bring it out in the open. Make the payments legal. Keep it aboveboard.
But should we?
Part of college football’s magic is its amateurism. Yes, we idolize college football players, but at the end of the day they’re still students. They sit next to us in classrooms and share study carrels in the library. Yes, some players are bound for the pros, but for every first-round draft pick, there’s 20 more guys on the team who will never see an NFL locker room. These are the guys who play for the love of the game.
Some of these players might never have seen the inside of a college classroom if not for the opportunities of football. College football gives players the chance to earn degrees while playing the game they love. Joe Paterno’s Grand Experiment focused on producing great men, not just great players — a mentality that would have been impossible in the revenue-driven NFL.
According to a recent report from the NCAA, Penn State consistently beats the national averages for graduation rates among players in all sports, not just football.
Money removes the “student” from student-athlete. If education isn’t a priority, players with a legitimate shot at the NFL will bypass college altogether, not wanting to waste valuable years in college when they could be making millions in the pros.
If money enters the equation, it’s an indication that education doesn’t matter as much as football. It’s telling players that it’s OK to ignore assignments because education isn’t their job — they’re not getting paid for their performance in the classroom but their performance on the field.
It takes away from the magic of Saturday afternoons. If the players become paid employees of the school, they’re no longer just like us. The connection between fans and players would be lost. It’s easier to connect with the running back sitting next to you in your 8 a.m. calculus class than it is with the superstar NFL wide receiver with the million-dollar mansion.
There’s already less emphasis on the “student” part of student-athlete. It isn’t fair that universities exploit players for millions of dollars. But if we pay athletes, do we pay all of them? Football and basketball bring in millions. Women’s gymnastics does not. The women of the gymnastics team work as hard and train as long as the football team, but are they less deserving of pay because their passion is a non-revenue sport?
There is no easy answer to this question. Joe Nocera, a “New York Times” columnist has been vocal in his call to reform the NCAA, as have many others. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that soon, something’s got to give.