Carnegie Mellon University
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Should Division I Football and Men’s Basketball Student-Athletes be Paid?

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posted on 2015-06-01, 00:00 authored by Colin Shaffer

Division I men’s college athletics has become a mainstay in American culture. On Saturdays in the fall, people come together to watch their alma mater or a regional football powerhouse play their rival for bragging rights, generating prime marketing opportunities for beer, car, and fast food companies and millions of dollars in advertising revenue for broadcasters. Every spring, the entire country is engulfed in “March Madness” as the NCAA basketball tournament unfolds. People root for their own teams and wait with anticipation to see which mid-major team upsets a major power to become the “Cinderella Story” of the tournament.

While amateur athletics emerged as a way to “enhance the educational experience of students1 ,” over time it has become a significant profit-generating venture. Universities are making millions of dollars off of their football and basketball programs, yet the student-athletes do not receive any compensation aside from free tuition and other perks (for those lucky enough to receive scholarships). Should college athletes who generate millions of dollars for their universities, for large corporations, and broadcasters, be paid? In the past few years, many journalists, lawyers, labor specialists, academics, and college athletes have begun to wrestle with this question. The goal of this thesis is to provide some historical context for this debate.

This topic will give an historical viewpoint on the “pay for play” debate. It addresses the ethical compass of the NCAA as a governing body, the economics behind Division I Collegiate Football and Men’s Basketball, and the challenge universities face recruiting and retaining the best athletes. The economics behind intercollegiate athletics is the driving force behind the “pay for play” debate. This research explores the history of television contracts with particularuniversities, conferences, and the NCAA as a whole. In addition, it examines how money has challenged the ethical structure of the NCAA leading ultimately to the recent threat of unionization by college athletes, and the place of race and class in the debate over “pay for play”.

Despite the recent boom in popularity on this issue, “pay for play” existed within Division I revenue generating sports (Men’s Basketball and Football) for over a century. Moreover, this history is relevant for understanding why the option of compensating these particular student-athletes is a more realistic possibility today rather than any other time since the Sanity Code. This report culminates with an in-depth discussion of possible policy changes for the NCAA to adopt, but ultimately suggesting a new, original model: The Distribution Model. This thesis will help to lay the foundation for a fair and just decision to be made on the “pay for play” argument in intercollegiate athletics.





Jay Aronson, Joshua Centor


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