SMU student-athletes discuss pay for play dilemma

After paying her monthly rent of nearly $1,000 for an apartment on Mockingbird Lane, SMU women’s soccer player Hannah Fleet says that she has only $500 left to spend for the month. Out of the remaining $500, she pays about $50 for electricity, and $100 for her phone bill, leaving her with just $350 for the rest of her expenses.

Fleet, a junior, has practice early in the morning so it’s hard to make breakfast. Along with practice, class, and meetings, in fact, she rarely has time to cook at all, and inevitably eats most of her meals out. There goes most of the rest of her spending money.

“I have to borrow money from my parents because we don’t get checks on certain months,” Fleet said. “It would be nice to have some extra money in my pocket to spend freely.”

Fleet, along with some other SMU student-athletes would like the NCAA to construct a plan that compensates athletes for the countless hours they spend on school and their respective sport.

“I believe that other athletes as well as myself should get paid because of all the jobs we generate in society,” junior runner Latessa Johnson said. “The only question is how much should they get paid and should everyone receive the same amount.”

Matt Robinson, associate director for Student Athlete Academic Services, sympathizes. He said that the amount of hours student athletes spend a week on sports and studies takes up most of their time.

“Having the discussion about how much time there is in a week which is 168 hours and then compare that to how many hours the average person spends working a full-time job, which is 40 hours per week, while comparing that to a student-athletes schedule, college athletics is like having a full-time job,” he said.

The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar sports business which makes millions of dollars from TV contracts, merchandising deals, and brand deals like Nike and Adidas. According to researcher Ryan Vanderford, in 2012 the NCAA made $871.6 million in revenue.

Coaches and athletic directors from powerhouse universities earn millions each year, SMU head basketball coach Larry Brown, for instance, made $2,215,486 in 2015, according to the university’s 990 federal tax form. Assistant coach Tim Jankovich made $559,644. Although these two coaches and the university makes millions from ticket sales, donations, media rights, branding, and other revenue streams, the athletes don’t reap any financial benefits. This is a problem, say many athletes, because they are the ones who put the fans in the seats and fill the stadiums.

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The graph above shows the Athletic Department Revenue vs. Scholarship Expenses. The Athletic Department is substantially larger. Photo credit: Business Insider

The conversation about paying college athletes has been going on for years at universities across the country.

According to the NCAA, athletes must remain as amateurs in order to remain eligible to compete in their respective sport. Amateurism means that athletes are prohibited from receiving money or gifts in any form. The amateurism requirements do not allow: “contracts with professional teams, salary for participating in athletics, prize money above actual and necessary expenses, play with professionals, tryouts, practice or competition with a professional team, benefits from an agent or prospective agent, Agreement to be represented by an agent or delayed initial full-time collegiate enrollment to participate in organized sports competition.”

This long list of rules and guidelines that athletes must abide by to remain amateurs can be very grueling and annoying when they know how much time they commit to sports.

“We work nearly just as hard as paid pro athletes whether or not we have a scholarship or not, and the hours we spend training could also be spent studying or working at a paid job,” junior rower Stephanie Carr said.

A full-ride scholarship covers tuition, books, student fees, and room and board. The majority of SMU athletes that play on the most popular teams like football and basketball, which bring in the most revenue, are on full-ride scholarships and reap the benefits of receiving a free education.

For other sports, like soccer, swimming and track and field, which don’t generate as much revenue, not all athletes receive full rides. Some only receive partial scholarships which could cover just tuition or books.

Some SMU students, however, think it’s ridiculous for athletes to get paid. Getting a scholarship is payment enough.

“I think athletes shouldn’t get paid because in a sense they are already being paid with scholarships,” junior Jose Ranz said. “I like going to the games and cheering for my school teams and I think the players should be playing to keep improving and work hard instead of playing for the money.”

There are advantages as well as disadvantages that come with paying athletes.

“With money being an extrinsic motivation for most people, paying athletes would put them in a greater mood and their morale would be higher about everything going on in their life,” Fleet said.

“Paying college athletes is good because more talented athletes would be attracted to schools that offer comparable competition depending on division one or division two,” Carr said. “These students would also be more likely to study at a school that challenges them academically.”

On the other hand, for the sports that don’t generate sufficient revenue to provide full-ride scholarships to their athletes, athletes think it makes more sense to not get paid.

“As a rower, my sport makes zero revenue,” senior rower Paige Papesch said. “This is all the more reason why receiving a scholarship at all is amazing and for revenue sports, athletes should keep in mind that they are, again, receiving a 75 K education for free.”

This conversation has been going on for years and the NCAA has yet to implement a plan to officially pay college athletes.

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