Should college athletes be paid?

A debate opened in recent years over the fairness of student athletes being paid for practicing their sport in college, with the two sides disagreeing on whether this would give them an unfair advantage on other students or not.

Rise of the Issue

College sports and competitions are some of the most popular sporting events in the U.S. Many student-athletes become famous across the country and go on to have lucrative careers in professional sports afterwards. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.) is the organization that offers full sports scholarships to students who show promise in athletics and pays up to US$3.5 billion in scholarships per year for these students. However, the N.C.A.A argues that because they pay for college tuition, they do not have to compensate their student-athletes for participating in college championships. Many have questioned the fairness of this practice, as they feel student-athletes sacrifice much in exchange for little gain.

Some have begun to advocate for these student-athletes to get paid for the use of their name and image like professional athletes, as this would allow them to gain compensation for their college sports careers, while others argue that student athletes earning an income would create other types of problems and inequalities.

Issue Timeline


President Theodore Roosevelt Establishes N.C.A.A, Sets Regulations for Athletes

The association establishes rules and regulations to prevent the exploitation of student-athletes by agents.


The Power of N.C.A.A. Grows Along With its Popularity

The college championship scene grows much larger as the N.C.A.A. splits colleges into divisions to encourage competition and as college games become televised.


Court Rulings in Favor of Student-Athletes Are Made

In 2014, a district court ruled that the N.C.A.A was taking advantage of its athlete's image without fair compensation. In 2021, the Supreme court ruled unanimously against the N.C.A.A. denying compensation to students.

Micro Issues


Similar Treatment with Other Students

While some believe that college athletes being compensated would be fair because it would give them access to paid work just like other students, others argue that student athletes are already advantaged in other ways and granting them compensation would further increase the divide between them and other students.


Prioritizing Education

Proponents of an income for student athletes believe that this would relieve these students from economic stressors and help them focus more on their academic performance, while proponents think that this would further emphasize the importance of athletics over academics for these students.


Income Inequality

Many argue that compensating student athletes will perpetuate existing inequalities between them by compensating some athletes more than others. Others argue that higher income generators should earn more because they also face more exposure, pressure, and responsibilities than other student athletes.

Pro Arguments


Compensating student athletes should earn some of the revenue they generate.

The N.C.A.A makes a lot of money from the merchandising and broadcasting of student-athletes and collegiate championships, so giving these students some form of compensation would be fair.


Paying these students would relieve them from economic stressors.

Paying tuition fees only slightly lessens the burden on low-income households, so getting the opportunity to earn an income from playing sports would eliminate the need for them to work on top of that and relieve them from the additional pressure they now experience as a result.


Paying student athletes would help them for their future.

Most student-athletes do not end up joining professional leagues, so paying them would give them more options and financial stability after university.


Compensation could serve as an incentive to continue their education.

The pressure felt by some student athletes makes it hard for them to continue their education while both working and playing high-level sports. Granting them an income would be incentivized to stay in college and complete their graduation.


The N.C.A.A. would become more fair and transparent.

The organization has been accused of having exploitative labor practices and only using the ideal of prioritizing education as a cover to generate more revenue for itself. Providing compensation for their athletes would help it address these criticisms.

Con Arguments


It would incentivize student athletes to prioritize compensation over education.

An argument can be made that students would begin to select universities based on their potential pay rather than the value of education and other important factors when considering scholarships.


It would put many universities in jeopardy.

Most universities outside of Division I would suffer greatly from having to pay student-athletes, as the revenue they earn from collegiate competitions only lets them break even and they currently cannot afford to pay them.


Paying college athletes would be unfair to other students.

College athletes receive many privileges that other students do not get, so adding to that compensation could be seen as unfair to other students.


This would further reinforce inequalities among student athletes.

Student athletes are not a harmonized body facing similar conditions. While basketball and football athletes of Division I would probably be compensated much, all the other college athletes wouldn’t receive the same benefits and income, further increasing the divide between them.


Unpaid college sports guarantee that students’ prioritize education over athletics.

Compensating college athletes would further emphasize the necessity for them to perform athletically over the importance for them to perform well academically.