Evan Schwartz: Colleges should pay athletes

The GW Colonials haven’t sniffed the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Forget fixing Gelman or building residence halls, why don’t we pay our players?

College basketball is a huge moneymaker for Division I schools, and a school like GW could more than afford to pay its hoopsters a salary.

Yes, student athletes get scholarships that tend to manifest themselves in free housing and a free education, worth tens of thousands of dollars a year, but they deserve more.

There is definitely a large portion of student athletes who come from poor backgrounds, or ones who hope to use their free educations and athletic prowess as a stepping stone toward a better life. So why deprive them of money for the four years they spend playing college sports? College sports generate billions of dollars every year for schools. Student athletes don’t see a dime of that.

The idea is not that far-fetched. Though the NCAA claims student athletes cannot receive monetary compensation for playing a sport, different schools get nailed every year for “improper benefits,” which is code for cash, gifts or perks given to student athletes.

Every year, the Heisman Trophy goes to the most outstanding player in college football. This year, most fans would agree that player is Cameron “Cam” Newton, the quarterback for Auburn University, who has amassed an impressive stat line while passing and running for a combined 38 touchdowns and counting.

But Newton’s Heisman campaign is in trouble. Allegations have surfaced that Newton’s father Cecil asked for a six-figure payoff from Mississippi State in order to secure his son’s commitment. The school rebuffed the elder Newton, and Cam chose Auburn instead. Cecil has reportedly admitted to asking Mississippi State for money, but maintains that his son was not involved.

These are not the first allegations of a student athlete either receiving or asking for money, and it will not be the last. Earlier this year, 2005 Heisman winner and former University of Southern California student athlete Reggie Bush was stripped of his award after investigators discovered he had received over $290,000 in improper gifts from a sports agent while still in college.

These cases pervade the NCAA and will continue to sully its reputation until the rules change. There is no logical reason why college students contributing to a multi-billion dollar industry should not be able to reap the benefits of their talent. The NCAA’s rules do not prevent student athletes from receiving inappropriate benefits – in fact, depriving these students of money they are earning for their schools simply encourages more under-the-table payments.

Instead of top prospects like Newton putting themselves up for auction, why not pay all student athletes a stipend? Some are going to keep receiving illicit payments because they are desperate for cash. A NCAA-regulated salary would help dissuade players from cavorting with agents, boosters and others who want to pay them illegally.

If GW took just a small portion of the money it received from Colonials merchandise, apparel and ticket sales, it could easily afford to pay a small salary to its basketball players. If all student athletes were paid, smaller Division I schools would have a better shot at high-profile recruits who are otherwise persuaded by illegal payouts.

And watching the Colonials participate in March Madness would sure be a fun change of pace.

-The writer, a senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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