Show Me The Money: A Case For Compensation
Most people thought I had it good in college because I was on a football scholarship. But that was far from the case. Let me take you inside the life of a Division I student athlete.
Phase I: Living On Campus
My first and second year living on campus the scholarship covered my tuition, books, housing, and meal points at the dorm. I didn’t get a refund check to cover any other living expenses. The meal points were limited so I had to ration them carefully through the semester so I didn’t starve at the end. Sometimes people wanted to borrow my meal card and I was like "naw you see I'm 290lbs and like to eat. I need to save these points." Plus I was working out for hours everyday. No way I was sharing my meal card!
Phase II: Living Off Campus
When I moved off campus like most juniors and seniors, it was even harder. My parents had to take out a loan to cover my security deposit and move-in expenses. The scholarship now covered my rent, tuition, books, and only dinner with the football team.
I routinely had $100 leftover each month to cover food, gas, and any other living expenses.
Sometimes I didn't even have food in my fridge to eat and I'd be starving late at night while I was up studying. I used to hit up Jack In The Box for the $1 tacos because your boy was hungry burning all them calories at practice. When I had a few extra bucks I was very excited to add curly fries to my order. Jack-N-The-Crack wasn't a healthy option but I had to do what I had to do.
Scholarships Are Earned
Maintaining a high level of performance on the field and in the classroom was exhausting. Unlike other students, it was impossible to get a part-time job to make more money because your boy was only getting part time sleep! My normal routine was abnormal for the average college student...
- working 5-6 hours a day playing football
- on top of going to school full-time
- most of my days start with 6AM workouts
- then I go to 3-4 lectures
- then back to football meetings and practice from 2-6pm
- and I end the day with mandatory tutoring from 7-11pm
Sounds fun right??
Looking back on those days, I remember how hard I worked, yet had little to show for it at the end of the day when bills were due. I put my body on the line everyday risking life and limb while universities around the nation were raking in millions of dollars per year.
A scholarship is not given, it is earned. Schools can take away your scholarship every year based on your academic or athletic performance.
Academic scholarship receipients are not required to take such physical risks to maintain their scholarship. They ain't living under the intense scrutiny of the general public. They ain't waking up at 6am for mandatory workouts. Or going to mandatory tutoring for four hours per night.
The Forgotten Athletes
Student athletes should be protected in cases of long-term injuries, but they're not. People don’t think about injured athletes who require constant rehabilitation or long-term healthcare.
Universities are not obligated to pay for healthcare once you’ve stopped playing, even if the injury is a direct result of playing the sport.
The person selling peanuts and popcorn in the stands could fall and hurt his knee and get full worker's compensation, but the athlete putting his body on the line during every play may not receive the ongoing care he needs after graduation.
The Elephant In The Room
Universities have multimillion-dollar TV deals, merchandising deals, ticket sales, and other means of making a profit from collegiate athletics. Schools even risk debt, by paying coaches multi-million dollar contracts, by building new stadiums, by building new practice facilities, all on the backs of the athletes who get next to nothing. For bowl games I remember receiving a $20 per diem. The conference, the university, and the coaches all receive bonuses after bowl game victories. The athletes receive cheap rings. I'm not arguing student athletes should be paid big bucks, but they should at least receive some compensation.
The Scholarship Is Simply Not Enough
Student athletes shouldn’t have to decide between $1 tacos or not eating. They shouldn’t be barred from capitalizing on their talents either. I think college athletes should be compensated and benefit from their fame and likeness, as well as receive gifts. For example, if a student athlete wins a Heisman Award, his jersey will sell forever. Schools don't put his name on the back of the jersey, but everyone knows whose jersey that is. The NCAA has created loopholes to get around compensating the student athlete for his fame/likeness. There is no reason that student shouldn’t share in those profits.
As a student athlete, I remember having these opinions, but being too afraid to say anything about it. I was afraid of what the outcome would be if I tried to advocate for myself. No one wants to get black-balled from making it to the NFL. I feel like athletes have no control in the situation, having to roll with the punches for fear of retaliation. But I hope that the NCAA will learn from past and current student athletes’ experiences and improve the system for future generations.