The Daily Illini

The price of being a student athlete

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

This week, The Daily Illini ran a four-part series detailing the relationship between the University’s athletic department and the athletic apparel manufacturing giant Nike Inc. The series used information gathered through Freedom of Information Act requests to showcase the contract that more or less provides student-athletes with free apparel, uniforms and other gear.

The contract mandates that the athletic department solely outfit and sell Nike gear and apparel, and in return the department receives $325,000 annually from Nike.

While getting free Nike gear can be exciting for many student-athletes, we take issue with the NCAA and its decision not to regulate these types of contracts. Further, we take issue with the NCAA — a “nonprofit,” $6 billion annual business — and its choice not to pay student-athletes.

Many student-athletes are awarded scholarships to attend their universities, which alleviates some financial burdens. However, the devotion required of student-athletes to their sports means, for the most part, they cannot work jobs throughout college. It is their decision to take part in such demanding sports, but for some student-athletes, an athletic scholarship is the only chance they have to attend an institution like the University.

From the hours of training, working out and practicing, student-athletes already face difficulties maintaining their GPAs. Most cannot spare the extra time commitment of a 20-hour work week, considering the work regulations enforced by the NCAA for student-athletes.

Common arguments against “play for pay” are that it would create a bidding war for high-profile recruits, result in more transfers and provoke the growth of an open market of players. The “play for pay” initiative would not only provide student-athletes the opportunity to become financially responsible in a safer environment, but it would also allow student-athletes to live more comfortably or have a financial cushion in the case of a sudden loss of scholarship.

General assemblies and other state entities continue to halt the decision to pay student-athletes, though. Just on Tuesday, a North Carolina bill requiring public universities to pay student-athletes was struck down by the state’s House of Representatives.

The University is limited to ordering $1.2 million worth of free apparel from Nike per fiscal year in the recent adjustment to the original 2005 agreement. That is $1.2 million worth of clothing dedicated to athletes.

Do we think that student-athletes should have to pay for their own required gear? No. But we do believe that the NCAA must reexamine whether it’s fair the University of Illinois and Nike continue to benefit off the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of 18- to 24-year-old college students without offering them reimbursement.

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