Little did I know that this simple question would ignite a two hour conversation about paying college athletes. The answer was a resounding NO. College athletes should not be paid.
I immediately went back to that conversation when I heard Jesse Palmer say on ESPN's College Football Live today that he agrees with Steve Spurrier and that college football and basketball players should be paid. While I can live with paying ALL college athletes, not just football and basketball, Palmer's next statement made me wonder if he sees the bigger mission within college athletics:
"I don't think because you pay college football players and college basketball players that means you have to pay all the other athletes in college sports the same amount because school's don't capitalize from the men's golf team and the women's softball team the same way that they do in college football and college basketball."
While an athletic department have a strong business element to it, it also have a responsibility to it's student-athletes. That encompasses everyone from the ninth batter in the softball lineup to the power forward on his way to the NBA.
Since basketball and football bring in more revenue, does that automatically mean that more resources and focus will be dedicated to them? In reality, yes, but athletic departments are not just made up of basketball and football players. They have tennis players, rowers, even freestylers.
While individually that doesn't seem overwhelming, but for each one of those athletes, there is a whole team waiting. Multiply that number by ten, or in some cases, twenty. That's an athletic department and a lot of athletes to think about who do not play on the gridiron or the basketball court.
My question is this: If you're going to pay athletes, how do you distribute the money? What is the cutoff point? Do specific sports get more than others? Would gender play a role? Would your money increase depending on how well you do during the season? What about academic performance? Would positive performance in the classroom increase how much money an athlete or a specific team gets?
All of these questions need to be answered and have not been. And I am not claiming to know the answer. I'm old-fashioned. I believe in having a sense of pride in your school and playing for all the students sitting in the student section and the alumni. If the eventual outcome is that the NCAA decides to pay all of it's student athletes, it will be an adjustment for a lot of people, including myself.
One piece of this situation that people are not thinking about is the aftermath. Money is a powerful thing. If there is a significant discrepancy between the payment for teams, there could be a sense of resentment between them, dividing a community. I hope that would not happen, but then again, I'm not an athlete.