Student-athlete. The order of these words is not an accident. This phrase is thoughtfully constructed as a signal to all that being a student comes first. However, the reality seems a little skewed as I finally trudge off the field, the sun well on its way to disappearing and a mountain of homework lying menacingly on my desk.
Indisputably, I attend college for the principal purpose of receiving a top-quality education. However, when the season rolls around, the layers of classes and homework remain a priority, but soccer instantly becomes my chief time commitment.
And I am only a Division III athlete at an academically rigorous school in which athletics is but an afterthought. I shudder at the thought of living the life of a Division I football player, who averages more than 43 hours per week in his sport, longer than the typical workweek.
Unfortunately, there is one huge difference between the week of a college football player and a workplace employee: money. The athlete doesn’t see a penny his entire career.
Except for small cost-of-living stipends for a limited number of Division I athletes, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not allow student-athletes to be paid — not a daily wage for the rigorous time commitment, not for the thousands of jerseys sold with his or her name on the back; he or she cannot even accept an invitation from a fan to buy that person dinner.
I am a backup defender for a tiny college in the middle of Iowa. I expect fewer fans to show up to my games than did for my high school contests. But if I saw someone in the grocery store with a Grinnell College jersey reading “Bulman” on the back, you’d better believe I’d be furious if I did not even get 1 percent of that sale.
You might hear the argument that these colleges would not be able to afford to pay these students. How about if these students had the capacity to generate a billion dollars in less than a month? CBS and Turner Broadcasting make more than $1 billion off March Madness, as reported by Forbes. Sure, this money doesn’t all go to the NCAA. How about the fact that University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari is signed to a seven-year, $52.5 million deal? It seems like these colleges must have at least a few dollars floating around.
I’m not saying all college athletes should be paid. In my four years as a student-athlete, I definitely do not deserve to see a paycheck from my college. But for Division I athletes who dedicate insanely long hours, miss multiple days of classes and prepare for their sport year-round, why should they receive nothing, while a library student-worker can earn $9 an hour checking out books from a desk?
Fewer than 2 percent of Division I college athletes become professionals in their sport, yet every player must make the same time commitment as the star power-forward destined to play in the NBA. Therefore, almost all of these student-athletes are attending college to graduate with a degree, often struggling to make financial ends meet. As someone who is going to graduate with thousands of dollars in debt, I at least can work two jobs while in school. I highly doubt most Division I players have that same luxury. Sure, some of them may attend school tuition-free, but that doesn’t mean they have free money to spend on daily expenses.
College administrators do not need to break the bank paying student-athletes, but athletes do not need to sell their souls to their sport and get nothing tangible in return, either. Student-athletes deserve to make at least as much money as the average student-worker. And if someone is willing to pay the athlete for an autograph, who is that really hurting?
Paying student-athletes will change nothing besides putting a little more well-earned money in their pockets and allowing them to worry about the challenging-enough task of juggling academics and athletics, not affording their next meal.
Jeremy Bulman is from St. Louis Park.