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The Duke Debates: Should college athletes be paid? (Part two)

Pay 'em!

By Chad Houck
On April 14, 2011

  • Senior forward Damian Saunders drives the lane against Hawks forward Idris Hilliard. Saunders had 17 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks Friday. Zach Brendza

As a former student-athlete with two years of Division I swimming experience, I think I have a unique perspective on the recurring issue of whether or not student-athletes should be paid. I believe that there's a way to protect the purity of amateur athletics while still compensating athletes fairly for their efforts, or more importantly, their revenue creation.

My experience in college athletics taught me that no matter what sport you're playing and at what level, if a school is offering you a scholarship, you are, to some extent, at the school's mercy should you accept it.

The 20-hour per week practice limit can certainly be pushed, and I'm 100 percent positive that, at nearly every major collegiate football program, that limit is surpassed without concern. Add those hours to study hours (six of which were required freshman year at Duquesne), studying on your own time and normal college student social activities, and you find yourself with very little free time.

I mention this because college athletes are required to make time for at least three of four of those activities, and we can all agree that a social life is essential for any college student, so make it four-for-four. That leaves little time for any chance at clocking a couple work-study or weekend job hours to foot the bills. Whether it's catching a movie or paying the $5 keg fee (let's be honest, athletes aren't angels), without a source of income, those funds can evaporate quickly.

I'm certainly not suggesting that the hundreds of thousands of NCAA athletes should be paid a figure equal to professional athletes. I'm not even saying they should be paid equal to a minimum-wage worker who labors 40 hours per week. What I'm saying is with the money that some of these athletes earn their schools, a monthly or bi-weekly stipend could go a long way, and it wouldn't ruin the integrity of amateur athletics.

Vince Young's final season at Texas earned the University $42 million, and there's no doubt a large portion of that came directly from the purchase of burnt-orange number 10 jerseys. There's no argument that Young  by himself earned that school much of what it made.

Was Young reimbursed for what he did for the school? Legally and in the open, no, he wasn't. Hypothetically, though, Young could have been attending school and living on a budget that helps pay for the extra calories a football player needs, but that's it. Is that fair?

The difficult question is which players should earn these stipends and which should not? The only true revenue-earning programs in the NCAA are football and basketball, while every other program is actually a money-vacuum to where much of the revenue is redirected.

Under this line of thinking, every single football and basketball player in the NCAA contributes as a money-maker for the school, and in turn should be eligible for that stipend. To avoid recruiting battles that would certainly end unfairly, the amount of monthly money would be even across the board for each NCAA division with Division I athletes making most and scaling down for Division III athletes.

I'm no economist, but the dollar amount could be a fixed percentage of the average income of each Division's programs, something in the range of $200 to $300 a month. That's enough to help a student enjoy the paid portions of the college experience while protecting amateur status and not letting any single player get grossly overcompensated.

Unfortunately, under this line of thinking, swimmers like myself and many other athletes wouldn't get compensated, but that would be too large of a drain on school's athletics budgets. Nevertheless, the truth is, few athletes ever expect to receive more than an athletic scholarship for their skills, and until they start earning a school tons of money, that should be just fine.

There's no denying that awarding college athletes a stipend can be a very slippery slope, but it's time that these athletes receive some compensation for what they earn the NCAA and their school.

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