Should college athletes be paid to play sports at school? That's what a reader who is a student at a Division I NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college in southwest Florida wants to know.
He's not alone in asking the question and it's a reasonable one to ask. As the reader points out, "universities pile up millions of dollars thanks to their athletic programs that are boosted by these student athletes with their talents. Yet the universities refuse to pay them."
The reader believes that instead of scrutinizing these student athletes to try to catch them doing wrong by taking a gift from a booster or cash as an incentive, "we should take the reasonable measure of giving them a modest salary so at least they can survive their time in college."
"When," he asks, "does this debate stop being ethical and instead become one about an essential need for their daily survival?"
Colleges whose athletic programs fall within Divisions I and II of the NCAA can offer scholarships to athletes, but NCAA rules forbid paying them a salary to play a sport. (Division III colleges, typically smaller schools, cannot offer athletic scholarships under NCAA rules.) So it's not as if all athletes at these schools are struggling for daily survival.
The question then really doesn't seem to be about "an essential need for their daily survival." If it is, then athletic scholarships can address that need for some athletes.
The question seems more about whether it's the right thing for student athletes to be paid to play, particularly given how much money is made off of their athletic performances.
Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, has made it clear where he stands on the issue by posting a comment on the organization's website. "As long as I'm president of the NCAA, we will not pay student-athletes to play sports. Compensation for students is just something I'm adamantly opposed to."
He goes on to draw a distinction between amateur athleticism on the college level and professional sports. "We're providing athletes with world-class educations and world-class opportunities. If they are one of the few that are going to move on to become a pro athlete, there's no better place in the world to refine their skills as a student-athlete."
It would indeed be unfair if some universities paid their college athletes salaries and others didn't. Adhering to the same set of guidelines -- agreeing on how it is they will behave when they play sports together -- is the right thing to do.
If enough of the member colleges and universities believe that not paying student athletes is wrong or unfair, they should lobby the NCAA to change. Until it does, there is nothing wrong with not paying accomplished college athletes. They might not get rich from their performances, but the likelihood that they'll go hungry is small.
(Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business," is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of http://www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing(at)comcast.net.)