Division I athletes deserve to be paid

Division I

Jacob Hutchinson, sports editor

You’ve heard this debate before. Should Division I college athletes be paid? If so, how? Aren’t full-ride scholarships enough? Would removing athletes’ amateur status ruin the integrity of college sports?

No one asked these questions when 17-year-old Olympic athlete Chloe Kim won gold in the women’s snowboard halfpipe event. No one complained when she took home $37,500 and possible performance stipends, in addition to a gold medal.

But when it comes to the NCAA, the floodgates of opinionated hell open up. Just asking whether Division I athletes should be paid represents an understanding of how much work these athletes put in – their sports are essentially full-time jobs. You would never take a full-time job that paid you in experience, but in the NCAA, that’s your only choice.

There is a bill in the California Assembly that would make California the first state in the country to change the rules governing college athletes. The bill would allow college athletes to be paid, self-organize and would open the door to commercial sponsorship. This type of legislation needs to be passed.

Yes, athletic scholarships are available to Division I athletes. Some even get free or partial rides to schools. But many don’t, and some with scholarships still struggle financially.

But that’s beside the point. Athletes who sometimes work work 40-plus hours a week deserve to be paid. In the 2015-16 season, 28 Division I schools brought in more than $100 million in revenue.

The NCAA’s top two moneymakers are Division I football and men’s basketball. For women’s sports, basketball is the top earner. Guess which are the only Division I sports with more African-American athletes than white athletes: men’s and women’s basketball and football.

I’m not saying the NCAA goes out of its way to prevent athletes from being paid solely because they’re African-American. The NCAA is a business – it’s reluctant to pay athletes regardless of their skin color.

But people’s hesitancy to pay athletes is tied to race. Most top prospects are African-American, according to the 2018 NBA and NFL drafts, and in the U.S., there are few people more targeted more than young, wealthy black athletes.

When we pose the question of paying athletes, a common retort is, “Well, what about all those other, non-superstar athletes?”

Leave that up to the universities. If a school’s athletic department can afford to offer $500,000 to a star basketball prospect, or give $10 an hour to a role player, let it. Offer athletes contracts that depend on their grades, or graduation with bonuses for exceeding standards. Implement multiyear deals so that one-and-done players become less common.

Some top-tier athletes might insist on single-year deals, knowing that they’ll be drafted in the NBA the following year. But if you can offer athletes these contracts to go to college for a few years, chances are good that more athletes would stay in school longer. This would benefit the NCAA by limiting “one-and-dones,” creating better competition.

And when the black market of recruitment is gone, so is the need for FBI wiretap investigations to find recruiting violations. Paying athletes would become regulated.

So yes, pay athletes. Pay them because there is no legitimate reason not to, other than an discomfort with giving mostly African-American young men and women a large paycheck.