January 20, 2013

Editorial: Should students be paid for sports?


---- — Colleges are now becoming more comfortable with the idea of treating their star athletes like stars — that is, paying them. That’s simply dropping the hypocrisy that has existed for generations by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

But it’s going to create some new issues for the less heralded schools in Divisions II and III, such as Plattsburgh State.

For years, the NCAA and starry-eyed moralizers have clung to the notion that a college education was the only means for 18-year-olds to succeed in life and that the purity of the college experience was enough of an incentive to lure them into university athletics.

No one was complete without that education, the argument went. Unimaginable successes, such as National Basketball Association’s Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and LeBron James of the Heat, flew in the face of this rationale, of course, but didn’t dent it.

Bryant and James make more money in one day than most of us make in a year. Anyone would be hard pressed to conceive of any reason they would ever need what a degree would provide them.

Of course, few students have the native talent of Bryant or James, and many have been seduced into failure by pursuit of a doomed future in professional sports. For that reason, college is a wonderful safety net for practically all talented athletes.

But let’s face it: the schools often profit from the student more than the student profits from the school. This is true of the gifted, the famous, the pre-professional-draft student athlete.

So the suggestion has been made over the years that the NCAA allow the schools to offer their star players more than just the standard scholarship. Why should the schools and the NCAA make huge thanks to the skill of this athlete, and the athlete make nothing — except the possibility of a degree, which may or may not come in handy in the multi-million-dollar world of professional athletics?

Now the NCAA and the colleges are apparently relenting. They are almost forced to, under the almost embarrassing riches they are realizing themselves.

Television will soon be paying the NCAA and participating schools figures in the billions of dollars for the rights to televise packages of collegiate sporting events. With those kinds of resources, how can the schools be cheap with the athletes making all that revenue possible?

But where does that leave Plattsburgh State, say? It is now thought that the top athletes in Division I schools may be paid an additional $2,000 a year, above scholarships, to play sports.

Plattsburgh and other lower-division schools have proportionate success in their sports programs, though they don’t have a national or even regional TV audience.

Yet, if it’s OK to pay in Division I, will it be OK elsewhere? Will bidding wars ensue?

The NCAA is leaning toward the right decision. But the debate is far from over.