Every time I hear about the latest college football recruiting/scheduling/conference-jumping/coach-changing/insert-scandal-here scandal, I always hear someone trying to excuse it by simply acknowledging what we all know. “Hey, it’s a business!” they say, as if to imply, “Only foolish and naive people actually believe that crap about ‘the purity of the student-athlete’, pal. That kind of thing went out with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Get with the times.”
Which is all absolutely true, but misses the point: The problem isn’t that getting money involved in college athletics taints the purity of the sport and that they should return to the good old days when it was a sport for students, by students; the problem is that if it’s a business, then the college athletes are the employees. And if they’re employees of a business, then they should get paid. Instead, not only do they not get any actual financial compensation for their labor (they get scholarships, which generally include campus housing, but even at the most expensive colleges that usually amounts to less per year than you could make driving a garbage truck–not to mention, the kids aren’t getting as much use out of their scholarship when they have to spend so much time practicing and playing) but in addition to that, if someone other than their employer, the university, tries to recompense them for their labor, they’re suspended from their job without pay. The school gets to make as much money as they want off of the students, but the student has to stay broke to keep their love of the game “pure”.
Some people claim that the college players get valuable football experience that helps them make the pros, but that’s not an excuse either. Minor-league baseball players gain experience and get paid (although admittedly, they don’t make as much as garbage-truck drivers either.) The point is, if we’re going to have college teams serving as farm leagues for the NFL, then college athletes should be paid for their labor the same way every other working American is. Colleges that make millions off of their football programs, then insist they’re simply providing an extra-curricular activity for their students when it comes time to pay the people who are making those millions possible, are exploiting those kids. “It’s a business” isn’t an excuse, because it’s only a business when the people in charge want it to be a business. The hypocrisy of the stance is what people are complaining about, not the fact that money has sullied the sport.