Paying collegiate athletes

    Just one week ago, Rhett Bomar was living a privileged life. Bomar found himself living the life of a celebrity as the starting quarterback of one of the nation’s top college football teams in Oklahoma University. But, as if being admired by thousands of Sooner fans and having a realistic chance at winning the national championship wasn’t enough, Bomar was also bringing in some extra cash on the side at a local car dealership. The beauty of his so-called part-time job was that he was illegitimately earning money.

    More specifically, Bomar’s sneaky scheme allowed him to get paid for going to practice. His daily routine consisted of showing up for work for just long enough to clock in, spend a couple of minutes appearing to work and then fleeing to practice. At practice Bomar would participate in all the normal drills and scrimmages, take a quick shower and then swing back by the dealership to clock out.

    That sounds pretty genius to me, using his celebrity power to manipulate the system in order to earn a couple of bucks simply for attending practice. However, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and head coach Bob Stoops didn’t share my opinion when the concerned new owner of the car dealership contacted them. Instead they felt that Bomar’s actions were despicable, forcing them to dismiss the starting quarterback and an offensive lineman guilty of the same act.

    This story is just the latest in a long string of instances where collegiate athletes seek alternative and illegal ways of earning an “honest” dollar, raising the much-debated question, should collegiate athletes be paid to play sports for their school?

    My initial reaction is to say absolutely not, because the majority of collegiate athletes at Division I schools are receiving full academic scholarships, free room and board, as well as the charmed life that comes with college superstardom. However, after careful consideration I am really beginning to change my stance, and am seriously questioning whether a measly scholarship sufficiently compensates athletes for the money that their outstanding play yields for the university.

    For the majority of college athletes, participating in a sport is like a job in itself. Players put in long hours, working hard to perfect every facet of their game so that they have a better chance at winning the ultimate prize, which is of course a national title. But who is the real beneficiary of winning that national title? Most would say it’s the players and coaches who helped claim the title, which is a noble thought, but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. It isn’t the star quarterback. It isn’t the agile small forward that put the team on his back to persevere in the fourth quarter. It isn’t the center fielder who hit the three-run blast to win the deciding game. No, the true beneficiary is the president of each and every university that enjoys success from their athletic teams.

    The sad truth of this matter is that when a university’s college basketball team advances to the Final Four or the college football team earns a bid to play in a BCS bowl game, that university garners an astronomical amount of money. While the players may receive some well-deserved praise for their remarkable performance, the university receives monetary compensation just for appearing in a major bowl game or the NCAA Basketball Championship game. The harsh reality of this is that the players never see a penny of the money that they rightfully earned, which is most unfortunate and unfair because the players are working hard for their accomplishments. Pride and praise are nice, but they don’t pay the bills.

    Another reason that athletes should be paid is that they have a substantial impact on the amount of apparel sold for a team. If a particular team makes an appearance in the College World Series or Final Four they are bound to sell a considerable amount more merchandise than a team that failed to advance past the first round.

    After George Mason made their first trip to the Final Four last season, Patriot hats, jerseys, sweatshirts, T-shirts and shorts became a commodity in athletic stores across the nation. Just think whether anyone, excluding current students or alumni, would dare wear a shirt that bared the name George Mason before their amazing run in the NCAA basketball tournament. In just one year, due to one Final Four appearance, George Mason is now making a considerable amount of money by selling their apparel. Without the efforts of their underdog basketball team last season, the Patriots wouldn’t even be on the map.

    An additional consideration is the fact that the publicity of a huge bowl game or late-season conference push has additional monetary implications for the university in terms of enrollment. Universities that have successful athletic teams can expect higher overall enrollment because students want to attend a school that is considered a winner, which means more money for the university. Doing well in athletics is almost like free marketing for the university. Therefore it is more likely that perennial successes like Duke, USC and North Carolina can continually expect an increase in high school students interested in attending their university.

    So, let’s think about this logically. Student athletes are the ones spending long hours preparing for their opponents. They are the ones neglecting family, friends and even their own health to win the big game. However, they are not reaping the benefits of beating the opponent every week or winning the big game. They won’t even be compensated for having a career-ending injury. Also, they don’t receive compensation for making jaw-dropping highlights worthy of a fan purchasing their jersey. Sure, most players enjoy the luxury of attending school for free and receive lots of praise for their athletic achievements, but that isn’t even close to being enough. There really should be some monetary return.

    College athletes shouldn’t have to wait until the pros to earn some money. Universities across the nation are financially capitalizing on the talent of their football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball and other teams. It is outrageous to think that athletes shouldn’t be able to profit from their athletic ability when they are selling out stadiums and arenas on a weekly basis. It is their on-field antics, not university presidents, that entice people into attending a game or purchasing a jersey. Therefore, the athletes should at least make enough money to grab some lunch or go to a movie or two. I’m not requesting thousands or even millions of dollars a season, just enough to live on. Maybe somewhere in the range of a couple of hundred dollars each month to repay the players for all the money they’ve garnered for the university.

    Until university officials can stop attending exclusively to their own best interests and begin to recognize the debt they owe to the athletes, cases like Bomar’s will continue to occur. Student athletes aren’t stupid. When forced to, they will seek boosters for financial assistance. If university officials disapprove of that, they can make the right move. They can pay athletes the money they have rightfully earned.