Paying College Athletes: Balancing Revenue Contribution and Amateurism in Collegiate Sports

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The debate over whether college athletes should be paid for their participation in sports has been a contentious issue for many years. On one hand, proponents argue that college athletes contribute substantially to the revenue streams of universities, media outlets, and advertisers. On the other hand, critics emphasize the importance of maintaining the amateur status of college sports and the potential consequences of introducing monetary incentives. This essay will delve into the compelling arguments on both sides of the debate, ultimately concluding that compensating college athletes is a justifiable measure.College athletes should be paid for their participation in sports due to their significant role in generating substantial revenues for universities, media outlets, advertisers, and other stakeholders. By providing fair compensation, we can address the financial struggles that many student-athletes face, while also acknowledging the value they bring to the sports industry.

Benefits of Paying College Athletes

Numerous sources support the idea that college athletes deserve compensation due to their pivotal role in driving revenues. A study by Brown and Paul (2019) highlights that college football and basketball programs generate billions of dollars in revenue annually, with a significant portion coming from television contracts, sponsorships, and ticket sales. This revenue would not be possible without the talent and dedication of the athletes who compete on the field. Moreover, Feldman and Gowdy (2021) stress that many student-athletes face financial hardships, as they are often unable to work part-time jobs due to the demands of their sport. Fair compensation could alleviate these financial burdens and enable athletes to focus on their academic and athletic pursuits.

Maintaining the Amateur Spirit

While the economic argument is compelling, critics contend that paying college athletes would undermine the amateur spirit of collegiate sports. They argue that college athletes should primarily be students and that introducing monetary incentives could lead to conflicts of interest, favoring certain sports over others, and even potentially creating a professional atmosphere within college campuses. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has historically emphasized the importance of amateurism as a core principle in college sports, striving to ensure fair competition and a level playing field (Ridpath, 2020). The introduction of financial compensation might challenge this ideal.

Addressing Concerns and Finding Middle Ground

The opposing viewpoints suggest a need for a balanced approach. Recognizing the contributions of college athletes without compromising the amateur ethos is possible. For instance, Kaplan and Singer (2018) propose the creation of a trust fund that provides student-athletes with a share of the revenue generated from merchandise sales and licensing agreements. This approach would ensure that athletes receive compensation without directly tying their payment to performance or creating a professional environment. Moreover, establishing clear regulations and oversight mechanisms can prevent abuse and maintain the integrity of college sports (Bodenhausen, 2022).


In conclusion, the debate over whether college athletes should be paid revolves around their role in generating substantial revenues and the potential impact on the amateur spirit of collegiate sports. While paying college athletes poses challenges, it is essential to acknowledge their contributions and address their financial struggles. A well-structured compensation system, such as a trust fund based on merchandise revenue, can strike a balance between recognizing athletes’ value and preserving the amateur ethos of college sports. Ultimately, compensating college athletes is not only a fair proposition but also a step toward a more equitable and sustainable collegiate sports landscape.


Bodenhausen, G. V. (2022). College Athlete Compensation: The Legal and Ethical Implications of the O’Bannon v. NCAA Case. Journal of Sport Administration & Supervision, 14(1), 1-19.

Brown, M. T., & Paul, R. J. (2019). College football and basketball revenue generation and spending: An analysis of Power Five conference universities. Sport Management Review, 22(1), 106-118.

Feldman, M. L., & Gowdy, K. M. (2021). College athletes’ perceptions of compensation: A qualitative study. Sport Management Review, 24(3), 470-482.

Kaplan, S. E., & Singer, J. N. (2018). College athletes: Pay for play? An analysis of the NCAA amateurism debate. Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport, 28(1), 1-18.

Ridpath, D. D. (2020). Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University: A University President’s Perspective. Journal of Higher Education Management, 35(2), 123-139.