The debate over whether college athletes should be paid has been going on for years, but it's heating up again with lawmakers in some states starting to get involved. Most notably, a Republican state representative in Washington has introduced a bill that would allow college athletes to be paid up to the "market value" for their services to the school. The lawmaker, Drew Stokesbary, admits his bill is a longshot but says his goal is to get a conversation started about the inequities in college athletics.
Indeed, college athletics generates an estimated $8 billion in annual revenue for the NCAA, but the players only benefit in the form of scholarships. "The question is, is education about educating people or is college education about the big sports? It's a fair question," says Walter Champion, sports and entertainment attorney at Texas Southern University.
Champion believes that, at the very least, the NCAA should re-examine the rule prohibiting student athletes from having outside jobs to earn extra income while in school. "They could be personal trainers in health clubs or stuff like that," he says. "I mean, there are lots of things they could do (to earn money) that wouldn't hurt their career goals."
While no such legislation has been floated in Texas, it wouldn't be unexpected here, with college sports programs in the Lone Star State raking in the dough. In fact, Texas A&M was recently ranked as the most lucrative college football program in the country, with UT-Austin not far behind. And last year, A&M signed head coach Jimbo Fisher to a $75 million contract. "The coaches out there are making ten million a year, while the athletes aren't making anything whatsoever, so that's inherently unfair," says Champion.
Overall, Champion believes some level of change is necessary with the current state of college athletics. "The U.S. is the only place in the world where colleges are training grounds for professional athletes--it doesn't happen that way in England at Oxford or Cambridge or places like that," he says. "So it's a really alien type of system."