Should College Athletes Be Paid: Balancing Athletics and Academics

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One of the hottest debates going around the country concerning young adults is whether or not student-athletes should get paid. On the one hand, many people argue that it is part of the letter of intent that they signed, and they should not get paid. Contrary, others say that the amount of time that they put in outside the classroom should warrant at least some compensation. Many student-athletes have gone on record saying that while the fame is glorious, they barely have any money to support themselves. This essay will argue that colleges should act as moral agents in protecting the rights and dignity of their student-athletes by providing them with a paycheck at the end of each academic year for their extraordinary work outside of the classroom.


In Defense of Compensation for Athletes

One influential figure that would support the claim that student-athletes should get paid is Aristotle. One of the most influential lessons that Aristotle teaches is his Normative Ethics. Simply put, Normative Ethics is ‘the branch of ethics that tells us how to determine what is right from wrong’ (Covey 2018a). Normative Ethics is an important component of decision-making. If Aristotle were to look at this situation, I believe he would agree that student-athletes should get paid because of their virtuous dedication to the school. Along with working hard in the classroom, they are required to put in tedious hours in the gym and practice on the field. Another lesson that Aristotle teaches is the importance of a moral agent and a moral patient.

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A moral agent is ‘the one with the capacity to make moral decisions. Traditionally, they must have the ability to reason and can be morally held accountable for their actions (Covey 2018b). A moral patient is ‘one toward whom a moral agent has a moral responsibility and lacks the rational capacity to be a moral agent’ (Covey 2018c). In this case, the college is the moral agent as they have a responsibility towards the students. They should act in the student’s best interests and award them with money. In paying the students, the colleges will be practicing virtue ethics. Aristotle says in achieving virtue ethics, we are striving for moral excellence. I believe that the colleges paying the student-athletes will be acting in a morally excellent manner. Also, Aristotle teaches that in every act, we should strive to act with strong virtue.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

How are the colleges acting virtuous when their students cannot even afford a nice meal after a big game? For example, Philip Goldberg, from the Tufts Daily, reported that after leading the UConn Men’s basketball to the National Championship, Shabazz Napier revealed that he could not afford to eat. Imagine being the star of national television but not being able to eat at times. These athletes need to eat more after vigorous workouts, and these school meal plans are not cutting it. Back to my question, how is this virtuous on the college’s behalf? This guy is bringing your school so much revenue and national attention, but the poor guy cannot even celebrate accordingly.

Finally, in paying the students, colleges are practicing the virtues of fairness and equality. They are showing that they care about the well-being of their students. They are demonstrating a commitment to their student-athletes and that they appreciate all the work they put in out of the classrooms. I believe Aristotle would be a huge fan of student-athletes getting paid because of the virtuous acts that are demonstrated by the colleges.

Another work that we read that would support student-athletes getting paid is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. In this doctrine, it tackles the importance of the equal dignity of all people. The Compendium states, ‘Only the recognition of human dignity can make possible the common and personal growth of everyone’ (Compendium 145). What better way to do this than by compensating student-athletes? To ensure this growth, it is necessary to have equal opportunities for everyone. However, one major problem with student-athletes is injuries. According to the NCAA, ‘Fewer than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes (NCAA).

In reality, most student-athletes depend on academics to prepare them for life after college. Education is important. There are nearly half a million NCAA student-athletes, and most of them will go pro in something other than sports.’ How is this fair? While this is out of the control of the athletes, this is their lifestyle. What happens next after college is over? Some of them might have a meaningless degree, and it will be almost impossible for them to get a good job. How can they live this way? At least by paying the student-athletes, they will have something to live off of until they can find a job.

Balancing Academics and Athletics

Being a student-athlete is like working two jobs. You have to work two shifts a day, and how is it fair to only get compensated for one? In reality, the school is making much more money off of them, and they do not return the favor by compensating them. Recently, I had a chat with my friend who plays college football at Fordham University. At that time, we had not talked in almost a year, and of course, the conversation was awkward at first. Therefore, I asked him how football freshman year was and how he was training for his sophomore year. He told me that he really enjoyed his freshman year and felt a lot better going into his second year. Then, he asked me how my summer was going. I responded by telling him I had a great summer and that I really enjoyed my internship.

He flipped the conversation by saying how he wished he was able to have an internship. He seemed pretty upset that he was losing out on the opportunity to have an internship or even a summer job. He explained to me that even during the summer, he is still ‘working’ by training every day. I could definitely see that even though he loves football, it is taking a toll on his personal endeavors. He was distraught because he was missing out on these opportunities that could possibly lead to a future job while playing football for free tuition and fun. You could easily see that my friend would love to have a paycheck. His story is one of the reasons why I wanted to pursue this essay topic. In order to achieve the human dignity of all people, it is necessary to pay student-athletes.

Another source that backs up the ethical argument that student-athletes should get paid is the story of Kyle Hardrick. In a nutshell, Hardrick was once considered one of the top basketball prospects in the nation, but now his job consists of working long days in the oil fields. Life was great for Hardrick as a senior in high school. He was on top of the world. Now, his mom worries that she will wake up in the middle of the night to see her son hanging from his fan. I wanted to take a look into how the NCAA was responsible for this former young star’s downfall. Kyle’s path all started with a dream.

He remembers always wanting to make it to the pros, and it was that dream that pushed him toward greatness. Kyle was so good that he committed to the University of Oklahoma by the end of his freshman year of high school. One of the first things the head coach of Oklahoma said to Kyle’s mom was that they promised to take great care of Kyle. Fast forward three years later, and Kyle finally arrives in Oklahoma. One day Kyle was practicing, and he remembers taking a hard hit and feeling some kind of pop in his knee. Kyle never had this feeling before, but he knew the sound of it was not good. They did an X-Ray on his knee and said nothing was wrong with him, so Kyle kept practicing. However, the pain did not go away for a year. Finally, Kyle went to his own doctor, and he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus.

The Ethical Imperative

How is this ethical? Hiding an injury from a kid so he could keep playing. Kyle finally underwent surgery, and his doctor said, ‘Yeah, you know if this would’ve been taken care of a year ago, he wouldn’t have been in the situation he’s in’ (Kessler). Kyle’s family was fed up with Oklahoma and demanded they pay for the surgery. Oklahoma refused because Kyle went to his own physician at his own risk. Finally, to make matters worse, one day after rehab, Kyle was called into the coach’s office. Kyle was told to transfer, and his playing days were over at Oklahoma. Kyle had lost his passion, scholarship, and drive to attend school.

Everything that he had worked so hard for was gone. This brings me back to my question before, how is any part of this situation ethical? Oklahoma hid an injury from Kyle for a year, refused to pay for his surgery, and then kicked him off the basketball team. This is why I believe if student-athletes were guaranteed some kind of compensation for four years, it would help alleviate the burden of the medical bills and would have possibly helped Kyle stay in school even if he transferred. Since Kyle lost his scholarship, he could not afford school and therefore had to start working in the oil fields.

Kyle’s mom put it perfectly; she said, ‘It’s a system of college sports; you put trust in these universities. You trust them with your kid on and off the court, and once you’re damaged good, they just kick you to the curb’ (Kessler). I believe a possible solution could have been Oklahoma paying for the surgery, and they would leave it to Kyle’s rehabilitation to see if he would make the team. However, they stripped Kyle of his spot on the team and scholarship and refused to pay for the surgery. The colleges do not take care of these student-athletes, and I believe it is time to make a change by guaranteeing some safety for these athletes. Enough is enough.

Counterarguments and Rebuttal

One critique of student-athletes getting paid comes from Kieran McCauley of the local daily news. McCauley states, ‘Athletic scholarships are their compensation and a fair one at that. Essentially, they receive a free education, and in return, they represent the school in a certain sport. Student-athletes don’t have to worry about student loans, paying for textbooks, the cost of on-campus living, and meal plans.’ (McCauley).

Also, he states the average debt for a college student in Pennsylvania is ‘$32,528’ (McCauley). He goes on to argue that student-athletes do not have to worry about this significant number because it is wiped out in their scholarship. He goes on to list other issues, such as would all athletes get paid the same and that the best athletes will end up getting paid when they make it to the pros. I have a powerful refute to Mr. McCauley on why it is ethical for student-athletes to get paid.

As many people know, college athletics is a huge component of many students’ college decisions. When I think of college sports, a few main campuses come to mind. Alabama and Clemson are the meccas for college football. While Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and even Villanova come to mind for college basketball. What makes these schools so great at these sports? Coaches? Yes, coaching has a great effect on the play of the students. Student section? Yes, the crowd inspires the students to play to their absolute best.

However, it is the hard work and dedication of the student-athletes that brings these consistent results. One event comes to mind when I think about the increase in revenue for a school. March Madness is probably the most exciting month for any school’s basketball team. Looking back at 2016, I remember visiting the Villanova campus while they were in the final four. The energy and exciting atmosphere during that time is what brought me here.

Addressing Unethical Practices

Also, when I think about last year, some of my most memorable moments came from watching our magnificent run in the tournament. As a result of any school’s success in this tournament, there is usually a huge increase in the number of applications, and it becomes a lot harder to get into the school. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that colleges are cashing in on these talented athletes. One example that refutes Mr. McCauley’s claims is Michigan’s ‘Fab Five.’ Five of the most dominant high school prospects decided to take their talents to Michigan and were given that exclusive nickname.

In 1991, the NCAA saw an opportunity and took advantage of it by signing a mega deal that allowed CBS to stream every game of the NCAA tournament (Martin). The NCAA’s investment worked off as they gained $143 million dollars a year (Martin). A few years later, the NCAA went on to sign a $6 billion-dollar deal as the popularity of this tournament continued to explode (Martin). This, again, is another example of how the corrupt NCAA takes advantage of its players. The huge uptick in viewership can be attributed to the dazzling play of the ‘Fab Five,’ and they did not receive a penny from the NCAA’s ridiculous revenue.

These five budding superstars decided to put matters into their own hands and violated NCAA rules. They accepted money and endorsements from fans. One of the ‘Fab Five members, Jimmy King, went on record to say, ‘When you’re hungry and broke and watching everyone else make money off you but you, I don’t think it’s wrong for a kid to get help. I think that’s only fair (Martin). This is another perfect example of how McCauley was wrong in saying receiving free tuition is enough, as these kids were taking money on the side. This is just another example of how corrupt the NCAA is and how these student-athletes deserve a paycheck. It is hard to see how others have not taken issue with this, as the NCAA is making billions off of these athletes while the athletes are the ones doing the hard work.

Another critique of student-athletes getting paid comes from James L. Shulman and William G. Bowen. Both men present a solid argument with concern for the athlete’s concern for their academic success. They state, ‘It is not good enough. Just to get by. Respect for core academic values and the educational values mission of these schools requires more than that’ (Shulman and Bowen). They proclaim that there is way too much evidence that demonstrates that student-athletes tend to do less well academically than their peers.

Their main point is that student-athletes should not get paid because a college education is valuable and that paying these athletes could possibly destroy their drive to perform in the classroom. Many athletes might think, ‘, Well, if I am getting a paycheck at the end of the year, do I really have to focus on my academic success?’ Although I think this is a solid point, I think it is one that could be disproven. It is a harsh reality, but what many schools fail to realize is that many students are there because of the opportunity they were given to play a college sport.

For many of these athletes, sports might be the only way of making money in the future. What many people do not realize is that student-athletes spend countless hours on the practice field each day. It is similar to working the 9-5 shift. They put in a few hours in the classroom and then spend the rest of their time perfecting their craft. I quoted before that only 2% of athletes turn pro. What happens to that hefty percentage of kids who do not go pro? Their degree might not really help them find the right job. However, do you know what will help them? The four paychecks that they receive at the end of each academic year.

Let them work for that paycheck. If they are not inspired in the classroom, I am sure the paycheck will provide a spark for them. These four paychecks will help these kids stay away from poverty until they find a sustainable job. Many other critics might argue that these athletes will use their money for the wrong thing, but I think that it is unfair to assume that all athletes will do this with their money. It is unethical just to throw these kids to the curb after their sports career is finished. At least provide them with some compensation. I believe that this is a fair solution to this hot topic.


While many people still believe that paying student athletes produces a negative outcome, I hope that my argument persuades you to join my side. I believe that giving these student-athletes a paycheck is a fine way of thanking them for their commitment and all the money they bring in. Think about all the Villanova basketball gear that is bought and worn around campus. These student-athletes deserve credit for their hard work because I guarantee if we were not national championship material, there would not be as much gear worn around campus. Many people take these student-athletes for granted, and it is time to put an end to this injustice. They take many risks as injuries, loss of internships, and no personal time but they do it for the love of the game. It is time to pay them back.


  1. “Unwinding Madness: What Went Wrong with College Sports and How to Fix It” by Gerald Gurney, Donna A. Lopiano, and Andrew Zimbalist
  2. “Student Athlete Compensation in Context: Earning While Learning” edited by Robert K. Barney and Steven L. Danver
  3. “Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA” by Ed O’Bannon and Michael McCann Ed O’Bannon’s
  4. “The Business of Amateurs: How Fundamentalism Undermines College Sports” by Kristi Schoepfer
  5. “Swoosh: Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There” by J. B. Strasser and Laurie Becklund
  6. “Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports” by Andrew Zimbalist

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Should College Athletes Be Paid: Balancing Athletics and Academics. (2023, Aug 15). Retrieved from

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