The Big Ten Conference is considering paying cash to its student athletes. The potential stipend to Big Ten athletes would attempt to help bridge the gap between what athletic sponsorships pay and other expenses like transportation and clothing. News of this potential stipend has again opened up the longstanding debate over whether student-athletes should be paid, especially college basketball and college football players who bring so much revenue and attention to their universities over the course of their careers. While student-athletes are compensated for their athletic efforts and dedication through free college education, there can be legitimate arguments made that athletes in revenue-producing sports like college football and college basketball are being exploited while coaches and universities get wealthy off of them. But the upcoming 2011-2012 men’s college basketball season may serve as a counterargument against the thought that student-athletes are being taken advantage of by not being paid for their athletic exploits.
The 2011-2012 college basketball season will be one of the most anticipated in recent memory. There is a lot of excitement around the arrival of highly touted freshmen like Duke’s Austin Rivers and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis but there is as much excitement about the return of players like North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, who is coming off a strong freshman season himself. In fact, Barnes and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger made surprising decisions to not enter this year’s NBA Draft despite the fact that both would have been virtual locks to be selected in the top five of this year’s NBA Draft and both would be multimillionaires. Conventional wisdom is that both young men should take their first opportunities to become financially secure since they are not permitted to enter the NBA out of high school like former high school phenoms like LeBron James and Kevin Garnett were. However, the reasons behind every student-athlete’s decision to leave school early to play professional sports differ. But the returns of talented student-athletes like Barnes, Sullinger, and projected NBA lottery picks like Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Baylor’s Perry Jones III speak against the prevailing notion that student-athletes only care about getting paid while others (coaches, universities) financially benefit off of their blood, sweat, and tears.
An impending NBA lockout likely played a significant reason for the returns of the high profile college basketball players mentioned earlier but labor issues didn’t deter successful college football players like Auburn’s Cam Newton from entering the NFL Draft. While Newton and other NFL Draft draftees knew there was a possibility of earning an NFL paycheck later than expected, they can earn endorsement deals while waiting to sign their first professional contracts as Newton has apparently done. In fact, Newton was likely the beneficiary of another student-athlete in Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who decided to return to school even though he had the option of earning a professional paycheck in 2011 or whenever the labor situation clears up. Luck was thought to be a lock to be the number one overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft by the quarterback-needy Carolina Panthers but returned to school for a number of reasons.
Student-athletes bring significant publicity and attention they bring to their respective schools. Measuring how much they are worth to their schools financially and how to compensate them is a complicated issue. However, it seems that some current college stars have decided to bypass being compensated as professionals for one last opportunity to enjoy the college lifestyle at least one more season.