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Student Athletes’ Employee Status and Compensation Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2020


Currently, student-athletes who attend colleges and universities are not properly compensated for their contributions towards the athletic programs. Higher learning institutions are earning huge income from division-one college athletics. In fact, the first division college athletics attract huge amount of audience enabling higher learning institutions to receive huge revenue. Besides, other related activities also contribute to the income (Gatmen, 2011).

In return, colleges offer meager scholarship packages to the students. While the majority would argue from various perspectives that the scholarships and the meager benefits are enough compensation, the huge amount of returns the colleges and universities receive from the student-athletes participating in the sports are not commensurate to what they get (Gatmen, 2011). In essence, colleges and universities are exploiting athletes.

In the recent past, the argument for inclusion of the student-athletes in the college employment in order to be compensated fully has become more prominent. The argument is that the amount being provided in the form of scholarships is not enough for extra expenses. In fact, the money provided by various colleges in form of the student sponsorships only cover for primary needs. As a result, most of the student-athletes are leaving school early to enter the professional leagues in order to make money, or leaving school to relieve the financial burdens placed upon them by their families (Sobocinski, 2006).

Besides, the need for extra money has prompted increased contravention of regulatory frameworks that control the conduct of college and university boosters. The boosters have been accused of paying players and making deals with student-athletes outside the universities and colleges set of regulations. The underlying issues could easily be avoided through the adoption of programs that ensure full compensation of student-athletes (Sobocinski, 2006).

Many student athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds and although free tuition is great, they are still in need of money for other expenses that every college student requires. Until recently, the NCAA would not allow student-athletes on scholarships to work (Sobocinski, 2006). The purpose of this paper is to examine the recent push by various stakeholders and student-athletes to be considered employees of their various learning institutions and be fully compensated.

Literature Review

Several persuasive arguments have been advanced for the employment and full compensation of the student-athletes. In fact, the arguments for the employment and full compensation of student-athletes have been based on the commercialization of intercollegiate sports, competitive recruitment and eligibility standards of the student-athletes as well as revenues and improved images the winning of such competitions bring to the institutions (Sobocinski, 2006).

While most proponents agitate for full college employment and full professional compensation, the higher learning institutions have argued that the scholarships being provided are enough for the student-athletes’ participation in the division-one college athletics. According to McCormick and McCormick (2006), the revenues the student-athletes earn for schools are huge compared with the scholarships being provided. Studies estimate that the revenues for the schools and various institutions have increased by over 300% in the past five years (Hurst, 2010; Gatmen, 2011; McCormick & McCormick, 2006).

Besides, Hurst 2010 argued that colleges are estimated to be earning over $250 billion annually not only with the participation of various sports programs but also from sponsorship and coverage from major sporting firms and TV coverage networks.

On the contrary, McCormick and McCormick 2006 argued that such huge income could not be compared with sponsorship programs that average around $67, 000 annually or $250, 000 after a four-year academic program. The main tussle underlying the huge differences is the legal frameworks that include equalities (Meshefejian, 2005). Higher learning institutions would argue that increasing compensation to male student-athletes without considering gender would be illegal (Meshefejian, 2005). However, the equity issue can only be solved if the student-athletes are paid a similar base salary for their participation (McCormick & McCormick, 2006).

Moreover, studies indicate that most of the student-athletes do not graduate due to lack of extra amount of money requires for other expenses apart from accommodation, tuition fees and books (Hurst, 2010; Gatmen, 2011; Sobocinski, 2006).

Most of the students leave the academic institutions to look for addition jobs apart from participating in the professional sports in various colleges (Meshefejian, 2005). However, most of the student-athletes leave school to develop their career in professional sports while others cannot cope with academic standards required in order to graduate (Meshefejian, 2005). Therefore, the argument for the offering of scholarships does not hold (Meshefejian, 2005). In fact, when student-athletes are employed and compensated accordingly, they have higher chances of remaining in school and graduate as well as develop their sports professionalism while they continue to earn the colleges’ revenues and reputations (McCormick & McCormick, 2006).

However, the primary purpose of academic institutions of attaining higher academic standards overshadows these arguments (Gatmen, 2011; Sobocinski, 2006). In fact, the major aim of any academic institutions is to educate, not to employ entertainers (Sobocinski, 2006). As such, employing and compensating student-athletes are contrary to the primary purpose of any learning institution (Gatmen, 2011). In fact, the contrary arguments have been based on these premises (Gatmen, 2011).

Besides, McCormick & McCormick (2006) have also argued that the various institutions of higher learning have also applied the eligibility regulations to exploit student-athletes. Most institutions constantly admit and offer scholarships to students with grades below the cutoff points (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The major deciding factor under such circumstances is the talent and ability to participate in the college athletics (Sobocinski, 2006). Since such students were not eligible for academic prowess, their participation in the intercollegiate sporting activities is exploited to the fullest without considering the professional development and earning regarding participation in the college athletic team (McCormick & McCormick, 2006).

Nevertheless, McCormick and McCormick 2006 argued that things have so far changed. Academic institutions are currently being perceived as all rounds. In other words, academic institutions should not only emphasize on academics but also built and develop talents in order to provide opportunities for students that are not gifted academically (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). Essentially, academic institutions should give both academic and extracurricular activities an equal opportunity (McCormick & McCormick, 2006)

Reasons for the Students-Athletes Employment and Compensation

While studies indicate that most of the student-athletes are constantly agitating for their full college employment and increased compensation, colleges are reluctant to give in to their demands (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). Besides, several persuasive arguments have been advanced for the employment and full compensation of the student-athletes. In fact, the arguments for the employment and full compensation of student-athletes have been based on the commercialization of intercollegiate sports, competitive recruitment and eligibility standards of the student athletes as well as revenues and improved images the winning of such competitions brings to the institutions (Sobocinski, 2006).

The Commercialization of the Intercollegiate Sports Competitions

The intercollegiate sports have now become a large enterprise not only within the United States but also across the globe. The commercialization of the intercollegiate sports has attracted the sponsorship of large firms manufacturing shoes and apparels such as Nike due to increased popularity and wide coverage by large media firms such as the CNBC (Sobocinski, 2006). While the athletics were perceived as a destruction of the education system in the past, it has now become popular and incorporated within the education system due to the increased revenues it brings into the academic institutions (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The revenues are in large part received from the sponsorship programs schools get from large firms as well as increased reputations the colleges gain from the popularity of the sports.

When universities and college athletic teams win, the booster donations and other benefits roll into the athletics departments. The college reputation increases and the enrolment rate doubles at the learning institution. In the past decade alone, the colleges’ revenues for the sports have increased by over 800% (Gatmen, 2011). The NCAA, which regulate the intercollegiate sporting activities acquired over $3 billion dollars in the last sporting season (Gatmen, 2011). In fact, the increased popularity of the intercollegiate athletics among the American population explains the main reason for the large flow of money into the higher learning institutions.

The student-athletes are the major contributors for the success of the intercollegiate sporting activities. The huge contributions of the student-athletes to the sporting success justify the need for full employment and compensation. While most people argue that the student-athletes are benefitting from the scholarships, the scholarship are limited to the tuition fees, rooms and books (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). In some institutions, the scholarships cover only the tuition fees. The limitation of the scholarships and the need for money for personal management is also another reason why the student-athletes should be employed and become entitled to compensation benefits like any professional player.

Studies indicate that intercollegiate athletics generate over $250 billion in revenue annually (Gatmen, 2011; Sobocinski, 2006). In fact, it is estimated that the revenue from ticketing and concessions sales from events accounts for over 45%. The television and radio contracts, merchandizing royalties, profits from increased endowments accounts for the rest. The reports indicate that the winning institutions are prospering (McCormick & McCormick, 2006).

Besides, colleges are also benefitting from the exploitation of student-athletes that enter deals with shoe and apparel manufacturers (Meshefejian, 2005). In these cases, universities and colleges have been challenged on ethical perspective regarding such practices. In fact, the learning institutions are utilizing the amateur student athletes as billboards for their own gain (Meshefejian, 2005). From these perspectives, the college athletics programs are firms selling athletics entertainments, which should provide full employment and compensation to the student-athletes.

Increased Competition

The increased revenues and reputations gained through winning the college athletics has contributed to intense competition among the colleges and universities in the sporting activities (Gatmen, 2011). The highly competitive environment has created the win it all attitude, which has resulted in an extreme compromise of ethical consideration, particularly while dealing with student-athletes concerning their compensation and employment statuses.

The overemphasis of winning in the athletic sports is the major source of unethical behaviors by universities and colleges (Hurst, 2010). In fact, the production of true academic student-athletes, which has been the major mission of the higher learning institutions, has been greatly compromised (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The bottom line is that most of the institutions are actually exploiting the student-athletes for their own benefits.

In response to the increased commercialization of the college athletics, the substantial amount of support has emerged for increased compensation of college student-athletes in addition to the scholarships being provided (Gatmen, 2011).

The full scholarships argument being advanced by most of the colleges do not provide money for extra spending. As such, most of the student-athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds normally go out to look for extra cash despite their hard job to earn the colleges huge amounts of profits and reputations (Hurst, 2010). Even though most of the student-athletes are allowed to participate in part time jobs, the tremendous time demands required to participate in the school activities make the part-time employment unrealistic (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The time demand for class work, games and workouts as well as the stringent measures against most of the available boosters that would be providing the part-time jobs make such gestures a nightmare for most of the student-athletes (Meshefejian, 2005).

The Legal Perspective

From the legal perspective, the contracts the student-athletes enter with the colleges are deemed commercial. In fact, the activities in which the NCAA and its members engage in by utilizing the students are apparently interstate commerce (Hurst, 2010).

The nationwide ticket sales, intercollegiate competition as well as nationally televised activities are legal commercial activities, which should generate enough benefits to compensate the employees, or those involved in the contract (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). Under the regulations that control such commercial contracts, the NCAA and its affiliates have been found to have anti-competitive compensation practices, particularly which involve the remunerations of the student- athletes. The limiting compensation regulations by the NCAA has been found unlawful under various circumstances though the body still regulate the amount universities should pay the student-athletes (Gatmen, 2011). In fact, the NCAA has been found to be engaging in illegal price-fixing by various court injunctions. Besides, the NCAA has been limiting the financial aid universities provide to the student-athletes through the scholarship programs (Meshefejian, 2005).

Intercollegiate Athletics Eligibility Standards and Students-athletes Admissions

The presence of highly competitive college sports has prompted most universities and other colleges to admit students with poor literary proficiency so long as such students are talented and can actively participate in the college teams (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The underprivileged literary aptitude present among the professional athletes who have gone through colleges and graduated is evidence that most colleges and universities utilize such students purely for their sporting abilities. In fact, the realization among the professional student-athletes that they are merely utilized for their sporting abilities has prompted the agitation for increased pay and the formation of unions that advocate for the rights, particularly concerning their employment status (Gatmen, 2011).

The evidence is pronounced in some institutions where student-athletes attend college exclusively for participating in sports instead of receiving education. Under such circumstances, the student-athletes are considered as employees of the institution and should be compensated commensurate with their professional services.

Under the NCAA eligibility rules, the requirements for the student-athletes to participate in college sports is even lower compared with the normal academic eligibility standards required to attend colleges. In fact, the potential student-athletes only need to attain a GPA of 2.0 at high school in order to qualify for participation in the college sports (Gatmen, 2011). However, studies indicate that even the low eligibility standard is not being followed to the latter. In fact, most students with connections at the sports faculty as well as highly talented student-athletes are being admitted into the colleges without the eligibility requirements (Meshefejian, 2005).

Besides, most colleges have been exploiting the minimum standards and subsequently admit student-athletes into institutions, which they are not prepared to succeed academically (McCormick & McCormick, 2006).

Even though, strict measures and higher eligibility standards have been put in place in the recent past, most institutions in both public and private sectors have continuously violated the rules (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). Besides, most student-athletes are at risk of continuously being exploited by higher academic institutions through sponsorship programs despite stringent regulatory measures and higher eligibility standards that has been put in place by the NCAA. The cultural biases of the eligibility standards particularly towards the African-American professional student-athletes also characterize the minimum requirements for the college entry for participation in sports (Gatmen, 2011).

The weakness exposed most of the African-American college student-athletes to be exploited under low terms regarding the compensations for their services being rendered. In most cases, the sponsoring programs do not completely cater for some of the benefits the student-athletes are entitled to, particularly among the disadvantaged students such as African-Americans (Hurst, 2010).

The evidences indicate the reason why student-athletes should be considered as college employees in order to be entitled to full compensation including benefits and the rights to join and form employees’ associations.

While various arguments such as eligibility requirements have been proposed to regulate the colleges’ practices concerning the employment status and the compensation policies of the student-athletes, the eligibility standard proposals should increase opportunities and delimit the participation of college student-athletes on sporting activities. Most importantly, such regulations should be geared towards increasing the compensation practices and provide the student-athletes with employment status (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The reason is that higher academic institutions do not want to equalize the amount of money student athletes earn for the colleges with the compensations provided for the services being provided.


As indicated, numerous persuasive arguments have been advanced for the employment and full compensation of the student-athletes. In fact, the arguments for the employment and full compensation of student-athletes have been based on the commercialization of intercollegiate sports, competitive recruitment and eligibility standards of the student athletes as well as revenues and improved images the winning of such competitions brings to the institutions. However, various institutions of higher learning institutions have downplayed these arguments. At present, student-athletes are deprived of the economic privileges to which they are fully entitled. In turn, it is important to change the status quo. The main problem is that this topic does not receive much attention particularly to the policy makers.

While proponents still face various obstacles, much attention should be paid to the legal barriers that prevent the college athletes from receiving the benefits that are given to other stakeholders. Most importantly, serious consideration should be taken while reviewing the scholarship programs and the revenues the student-athletes earn for the colleges. Admittedly, at this stage, it is too early to generalize the outcome and steps that would be taken by the colleges and other stakeholders. Nevertheless, college athletes should be provided with adequate compensation for their contribution towards increased revenues they earn for colleges. Moreover, they need to be viewed as full employees of colleges and not as students that are being exploited for their full contribution towards the development of the institutions.


Gatmen, E. J. (2011). Academic exploitation: The adverse impact of college athletics on the educational success of minority student-athletes. Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 10(1), 509-583). Web.

Hurst, T. R. (2010). Payment of student-athletes: Legal & (and) practical obstacles. Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, 7(1), 55-81. Web.

McCormick, R. A. & McCormick, A. C. (2006). The myth of the student-athlete: The College athlete as employee. Washington Law Review, 81(71), 71-157. Web.

Meshefejian, K. (2005). Pay to play: Should college athletes be paid. The Journal ofthe Business Law Society, 1(1), 16-17. Web.

Sobocinski, E. J. (2006). College athletes: What is f air compensation? Marquette Sports Law Journal, 7(257), 257-294. Web.

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