Pay-for-play should fairly consider all athletes

By Alex Roux

In today’s world of college athletics, the debate over whether NCAA athletes should be paid is a hot topic.

Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon is currently suing the NCAA for using his likeness in a video game without compensation. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is leading the charge in an attempt to unionize the Wildcat football team in order to receive financial security and improved safety benefits. The NCAA is sweating because it might lose some of its roughly $900 million in yearly revenue to its athletes.

The discussion is almost always focused on star athletes competing in the biggest sports on campus. As one of history’s most recognizable college athletes, Johnny Manziel and his signature recently became an arguing point in the debate after he was busted for selling signed memorabilia. Should he be able to make money by signing his own name? Maybe. Generally, companies have to pay their employees for their work. Either way, it’s looking more and more likely that the NCAA will have to change its ways once the lawsuits and hearings play out. But even if the NCAA eventually is forced to compensate its athletes, the issue would be far from resolved.

At Illinois, the football program generates the most revenue and the basketball program (usually) generates the most hype. These two programs have the most recognizable athletes on campus competing for its teams. But my job is to cover the other 17 sports teams on campus, the ones that generate little to no revenue and are played by athletes who couldn’t make money off their own signatures even if they tried.

Athletes competing for these other 17 Division I sports teams put in the same rigorous work as the football and basketball players. They balance their practice and game schedules with their academics while risking injury to compete; however, athletes competing for nonrevenue sports rarely factor into the national pay-for-play discussion.

What happens if the football and basketball players receive compensation while the other athletes don’t? What kind of message does that send to athletes and fans of the nonrevenue sports? I can only imagine, say, the Illinois baseball and volleyball players wouldn’t be too thrilled at the idea of a fellow Illini’s value being worth more than their own. It’s easy to envision a rift on campus occurring if some athletes are treated as professionals while the rest are amateurs.

At some point in the next several years, you’ll probably be able to walk into a campus store and buy a Kendrick Nunn basketball jersey. It’ll most likely be displayed next to a Wes Lunt football jersey. Every year, the stars of our football and basketball teams have their jerseys sold to thousands of Illini fans. If these athletes could conceivably profit off their stardom in the near future, is it fair that someone like Jesse Delgado, a national champion Illini wrestler, wouldn’t have the same opportunity simply because of the prestige of his sport?

A system of compensation for NCAA athletes will be complicated and controversial if it ever comes to pass. It won’t be perfect, either, and I don’t have an easy solution for equally paying athletes for their services. Neither does the NCAA, not yet at least. But the pressure to overhaul the system is mounting, and they’ll have to come up with something soon.

I can only hope the new system fairly considers and rewards all NCAA athletes. Their revenue and media coverage may not be comparable at a school like Illinois, but a player’s commitment and dedication to his or her sport is one and the same.

Alex is a sophomore in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.