When September rolls around, the red-and-white comes out in Madison. Badger fever settles over campus and around the state; I sit here writing this after gleefully watching two games the Badgers dominate the Michigan State Spartans with a final score of 30-6. Football is not only a game, but a part of our lives. To say that our athletes are heroes to the people in Wisconsin would be an understatement. Football, basketball and other sports bring joy and pride to people around the state and alumni around the world. However, are the athletes getting proper appreciation?
According to ESPN, the Wisconsin Badgers are the eighth most profitable college football team in the country, making a total revenue of just above $95 million every season from ticket sales, donations, media rights and branding. According to USA Today, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst has a salary of $2.3 million. On a bigger stage, the NCAA draws in $6 billion annually in total profits, according to U.S. News & World Report. But while teams and NCAA officials fill their pockets every season, athletes do not make a single penny for their work.
Many argue that they are not without compensation, as many athletes get a free education, academic counseling and access to state-of-the-art facilities and coaching. Also, they get their names in the public consciousness, potentially getting them on the radar of professional teams. And their work is not for nothing: When players enter the professional leagues, they are guaranteed to be well-compensated. According to the International Business Times, first-draft rookies in the NFL made as much as $28 million last year and first-draft NBA rookies could make as much as $12 million.
However, is the promise of an education and future success enough to delay a salary for athletes’ collegiate play? Players risk the chance of suffering a career-ending injury before they graduate, which could end their dreams of going into the professional leagues before it ever comes to fruition. Not only could it end their success in their sport, but it could also put them behind their peers when it comes to finding a job in the real job market.
Academics often come second to healing a physical injury. For example, physical therapy and doctor’s visits could get in the way of academics, leading injured athletes to lack the résumé padding and skills their non-athlete counterparts have. Also, athletes infamously take non-rigorous academic courses to maintain a minimum GPA, potentially making them less competitive than other applicants in the regular job pool. If they don’t go into football or their respective sports, they may be lost in their futures. They might have dedicated their entire lives to playing the sport they love, but won’t have reaped any of the monetary benefits from doing so.
According to the NCAA, only about 1 percent of their athletes go on to become professional athletes. The hope and lore of becoming a professional athlete is something that hardly anyone actually gets to achieve, regardless of talent, skill or playing time. So for 99 percent of college athletes, the thing that often defines them is going to be ripped from their lives after they graduate. They won’t ever get the paychecks they hope for—they are being exploited by the NCAA for free labor. Former Northwestern swimmer Jenny Wilson is one of these individuals. Holding records in the 100- and 200-meter breastroke and was seen as an Olympic hopeful for the 2012 London games, Wilson saw her career come to an end after her quest to go pro didn’t take off. Now a reporter at a local newspaper, her life is no longer the same. “I miss [swimming] so much,” Wilson said, “There is a huge void in my life.”
According to one Sports Illustrated article, Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh both rake in over $7 million a year for their coaching expertise. If the NCAA can justify paying their coaches exorbitant salaries and allowing their teams to produce millions of dollars in profits, they should properly and fairly compensate their athletes. College sports would be impossible without athletes—not only are they talent, but they are spokespeople of the school they represent. Collegiate athletes work their whole lives to get a shot on the field or court, to get their names heard and seen by the masses and hopefully to make their way into the pros. It’s not fair to take advantage of their dreams and choose the easy way out by not paying them. If students working in a dining hall are paid, then students working on the field should be too.