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Should Student Athletes be Paid? - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

When people talk about paying student-athletes, the question of fairness is quick to emerge. Colleges use athletes' images to generate money. Isn't it only fair that they are compensated? Yes, but student-athletes are, primarily, there to learn.

Wouldn't paying them to shift the focus unduly towards athletics? But what about the benefits? What happens for the athletes themselves, or even the culture at large, when student players begin getting compensated. In this article, we look at how paying student-athletes could potentially influence the student debt situation.

college basketball players

The Obvious Potential

Naturally, college students with more money in their pockets are already advantaged when it comes to bringing down the college loan debt ceiling. Athletes in particular are usually too busy between sports and their school work to maintain a regular job.

By paying them for their time on the field, student-athletes can do what they came to college for without piling up huge quantities of debt. Only through a combination of scholarships and liquid compensation can they avoid debt entirely, but whatever the case the money they are paid for their role on the team directly helps cushion the blow of student loans.

This produces exciting possibilities for athletes and the broader state of the national debt situation. However, it is only a partial reflection of the potential paying student-athletes could have.


Less Need for a Traditional Job

College student-athletes are remarkably busy. Between class and their sports, there is little time for traditional employment. Paying student-athletes could eliminate the need for it altogether. Not only does this remove a significant source of stress from the athlete's life, but it also has the potential to let them focus more on their studies.

Puts People on the College Track

Paying college student-athletes has the potential to put more people on the college track. Someone who might have been on the fence about university life could be drawn in by the potential to make money playing a sport.


College student-athletes literally risk their physical health every time they step onto the court or field. All of the people crowding the stands are there as a direct result of all the hard work the athlete put into their craft.

They are the ones taking the risk. They are the ones generating the revenue. In any other situation, there would be no question that they should be the ones who get paid. It's worth mentioning that universities could make a similar argument. While they don't risk physical harm, they do put up significant amounts of money for their sporting franchises, from infrastructure to coaches, and scholarships.

They also draw crowds. When you see a packed U of I stadium on TV, you can bet that most of the people there didn't show up to watch number two do her thing.

These arguments are not without merit. However, they are also complicated by the way college franchises market their games. When universities use player imaging or sell merchandise with their name on it, they are tapping directly into the marketability of an individual, and not the team name itself.


Disadvantages Smaller Schools

Naturally, paying student-athletes will be easy for some schools, and very hard for others. Some have argued that the system will make it harder than ever for small schools to compete with the larger franchises. While this may be true, it is not significantly different than the system that is already in place. College sporting franchises with a lot of resources are already advantaged by their ability to offer more in way of recognition and potentially scholarships.

Shift the Focus Away From Schoolwork

Some also worry that paying student-athletes will shift the emphasis away from school work. The thought is that since their sport will turn into their job, athletes will give it more attention than they do their school work.

Hurting Obscure Sports

Paying student-athletes also has the potential to significantly change what sports colleges even offer. A school that once had a curling team may instead channel its resources toward the higher-earning sports, like basketball and football.



The concept of paying student-athletes is a little too new for anyone to make any conclusions. While it may reduce student debt for athletes, it may increase it for students who might have gotten scholarships through other programs that are now being neglected. It might also increase the burden on taxpayers, or put small schools in a difficult position about their spending decisions. In other words, much remains to be seen.

And yet, the potential is exciting. Student-athletes generate enormous amounts of income for their athletic programs-particularly in big schools. Compensating them for their efforts is a popular idea with significant potential for changing lives.

Articles by Sarah Daren