This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
When college athletes take the field, the roars of fans fill their ears. The huge fanfare of college stadiums surrounds them, and the games are even televised, often nationally.
They are celebrities, especially in the southeastern United States. Merchandise brings in millions of dollars annually for universities across the nation.
So why are most of them broke?
The debate regarding college athletes being paid has been pervasive in the U.S. for years already, but it has been especially relevant as college football has gained viewership in mainstream media after the recent addition of the College Football Playoff to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football.
College athletes are compensated with free education from whatever university they are attending, which has even more value in the modern world today. It is almost impossible to get a steady paying job without earning at least a college undergraduate degree.
While this college education is more valuable than it’s ever been — due to its would-be cost and near essentiality for a job as an adult — the industry in which student-athletes “work” is just as valuable.
College sports are making more money than ever before. The NCAA made over $1 billion in 2017 from college football alone, according to USA Today.
So why aren’t college athletes paid? There’s already a booming industry centered around college athletics, and the only people not making huge profits off of said market are the athletes themselves: the athletes who help collegiate athletics remain entertaining and relevant in today’s high-octane world.
The argument can be made that the college education itself is worth enough, given its essential nature and the incredibly inflated tuition costs that some schools normally charge their students.
Another possible stance is that the college athletic world is simply a prerequisite for professional athletics, and the money that is to be made there is the incentive for college athletes, and thus money should not be given to them at the NCAA level.
In the modern era, however, it largely comes down to this: tradition.
The old rules say that college athletes are not allowed to be paid. So they aren’t paid.
With college athletics, specifically football, being so dominant in American culture for so long, rules are going to be based on tradition.
So why should college football, or any college sport, be any different? The rules were established years ago, and those rules have been followed ever since, so people believe there’s no reason to change them, or that it would be too turbulent to change them.
The money-making machine that is college athletics simply refuses to change, regardless of the work done by others. Perhaps student athletes at universities across America will never be paid for the tireless work they put in for the teams they love.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.