A reader considers many facets of the question:
The debate over whether college athletes should be paid has raged among my friends since we met in 2004. Since then I've shifted my position from "They get a scholarship, room and board – and that is plenty" to "They should be allowed to earn their own endorsement money, but should not get paid by the schools." College sports is a huge money-making enterprise. The schools and the conferences these students play for are making big bucks from TV deals, radio deals and other endorsements. (Keep in mind, almost all of these colleges and universities are considered "non-profits" despite this massive amount of income.)
Now, I don't believe these schools should pay their athletes; it creates too many logistical problems to list. But why shouldn't these athletes be allowed to profit off their own skills and celebrity? If someone wants to pay them to make an appearance somewhere, sign autographs or even appear in a commercial, what is wrong with that?
Some will say that the free college education is reward enough. Others will say that college sports is supposed to be amateur athletics, and still others will point out that all the money the schools receive from the "big sports" go to fund the less popular sports.
But the people saying these things are ignoring the reality of the situation. The kind of athletes who would likely to get paid illegally today does not value their education the way you or I would. These people are invested in their hands, their legs, their bodies; the skills they have to offer the world are physical, not mental (in most cases). An elite athlete's life after sports will be relatively the same whether they have a college degree or not. Besides, most of these students who do play professional sports never finish their degree.
Whether we like it or not – and I don't like it – college sports are no longer amateur sports. There is too much money involved and we can lament that fact all we want. But that is no reason to deny these students the opportunity to earn money based on their own celebrity while we sit back and let the University rake in endorsement money from Nike and lucrative television contracts from NBC. There is a reason most deans and athletic directors at Division 1 Schools have seven figure salaries.