Should College Baseball Players Be Paid?
By Trevor McKey –
There is probably no other topic in College Sports more relevant today than whether collegiate athletes should be paid. With packed out stadiums, multi-million dollar television contracts, highly paid coaching staffs, and lavish college experiences with ever rising tuition costs, it only makes sense to the onlooker that the lowly college athlete reap the same benefits, especially if it is their skills that help bring millions in revenue and notoriety to the college. With this being said, a lot of individuals disagree with paying college athletes in order to uphold the integrity of amateur sports, making this topic more complicated than what meets the eye and easier said than done.
Before there is a discussion whether college baseball players should be paid, it is first important to define the difference between professional and amateur sport. Professionalism is where an athlete receives payment for services rendered in an athletic contest. Whereas, amateurism consists of athletes who do not receive compensation for participation in a sporting event.
To place collegiate sports within the context of sport historically, it is important to understand its roots and connection to amateurism. Without having to go back to the beginning of sports and the Greeks with the Olympic Games in 776 B.C., amateurism as we know it today, really began in England in the 19th Century. The Netflix series “The English Game” chronicles the birth of Amateur sports where the aristocratic elite create a soccer conference intended to keep the working class out while carrying a supposed code of gentlemanly ethics in the face of competition. This code of sportsmanship where winning was secondary and being paid would detract from the competition in the game as a gentleman was adopted by America and the various clubs formed in the 19th Century as well.
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
In addition to the various clubs, universities began playing sports in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1906 the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States was officially created to bring various universities under one banner to reform and answer President Theodore Roosevelt’s concern for the amount of injuries and deaths occurring in football. Adoption of league rules and regulations were constructed and the association was renamed to the NCAA four years later with over 62 colleges and universities as charter members.
Fast forward to today and the NCAA boasts revenue equaling $10.3 billion in 2018 from 1,100 member schools of all divisions with expenses exceeding $18 billion. According to the NCAA, $3.5 billion funded financial aid for student-athletes while $3.4 billion made up coaches’ compensation packages. The $7.7 billion shortfall was left to schools to find alternative sources to subsidize the losses. The NCAA also points to the 2018 findings that, “only 29 athletics departments’ generated revenues exceeded their expenses in 2018 — all were in the autonomy five conferences — and the average surplus at those schools was $9.3 million.”
Challenges to the NCAA Regulation
As of late, there have been multiple challenges to allow student-athletes to receive some form of compensation but what does the NCAA rule state?
The NCAA defines Amateurism for all sports in section 2 of Part 1 for all student-athletes. According to Part 1.2.a.(1) and (4) of the NCAA’s Eligibility Requirements, student-athletes are not eligible to participate in a sport if “they have taken pay, or the promise of pay, for competing in that sport, or Used your athletics skill for pay in any form in that sport.”
Former Northwestern quarterback Kaine Colter, UCLA’s former linebacker Ramogi Huma and UMass’ former basketball standout Luke Bonner created the College Athletes Players Association in 2014 to provide a voice for collegiate athletes. The CAPA appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in order to consider college athletes employees. The attempt was ultimately denied on appeal but not after the regional director of the NLRB agreed with CAPA citing, “an employee is a person who performs services for another under a contract of hire, subject to the other’s control or right of control, and in return for payment.” The payment according to the regional director is the athletic scholarship. In response to this decision, the NCAA said student-athletes play sports for the love of the game and not to be paid.
Recently, Governor Gavin Newsom of California passed the Fair Play to Pay Act in 2019, set to take effect in 2023, allowing student-athletes to make endorsement deals and hire agents. The NCAA Board of Governors initially pushed back saying this would leave an uneven playing field among athletes and universities. However, not too long after the most populated state in America with the most athletes passed the bill, the NCAA Board of Governors unanimously approved to allow student-athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness once all the divisions come up with rules by 2021.
As a result of the mounting pressure to pay student-athletes, the NCAA’s President, Mark Emmert, recently joined lawmakers on Capitol Hill in February 2020 to lobby the Senate to “maintain uniform standards in college sports.” After California’s law, as many as 25 states are considering similar laws that could go into effect sooner than California’s 2023 timeline.
Baseball is a unique sport because unlike the major college sports in basketball and football, Major League Baseball has always had the minor league system for player development and athletes can forgo college if drafted out of high school. While the National Basketball Association (NBA) has their developmental league, the league is more of a death sentence for a career rather than for development of top draftees who immediately are placed on the professional team. As for the National Football League (NFL), no player development exists. Therefore, both associations utilize and benefit from the NCAA with player exposure and development at no cost to either league, and the same can somewhat be said for baseball, although it is different.
Sports, whether professional or amateur, have been adopted by many people as a way of life. For many, College Sports signify competition at its purest form separate from greed that can rear its ugly head in professional sports. The elements that draws the avid sports fan to college sports include but are not limited to the following: team over players, team identity or community, atmosphere, rivalries, and ties to education. Whether this means reliving your glory days by cheering on your alma mater for players who are playing for the love of the game and an education, or supporting the local community university, college sports have differentiated themselves from professionals. Would paying student-athletes detract from the intended goal of amateur sports and athletes receiving an education? Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps the answer is rooted in a compromise and in a different question. How do we fix the current situation when it appears there is clear exploitation? Sure, at one point the college education was enough compensation but now that athletes are practicing 40-50 hours a week and billions of dollars are at stake with the Power Five conferences recording surpluses, could there be a compromise that encompasses these developments? Regardless, due to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the implications for any type of payment scheme to student-athletes will probably require equitable distribution to all sports and both men and women. Thus, the situation is infinitely more complicated and will have people on both sides of the debate.