Search Menu

Should College Athletes Get Paid?

Should College Athletes Get Paid?

Imagine you’re volunteering for this thing. They totally put you up, teach you, you’re super involved. Eventually you start making them money—lots of money. Wait though, you’re a volunteer, yet they are profiting big time off you. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? That’s basically what’s going down with college football athletes wanting to unionize and demand compensation for the work they’re putting in, and which schools are profiting off.

How this whole college football unionization thing started

Northwestern University football players, old and new, decided that it wasn’t fair that Northwestern was benefitting financially, in the millions, off the work they put in. Since the school decides where they go and when they practice, they feel they are employed by the university and should earn wages. They filed this claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), since the school is private (if it were public, they would have to go to the state government). The NLRB sided with the players. The school promptly appealed, saying they are students first and foremost.

Soooo, what’s the big deal?

Precedent. If Northwestern players get to earn wages, other schools will follow suit, which would dramatically affect every aspect of college football, from player recruitment to GPA requirements. Players at private universities have an easier time making their case, seeing as they do not have to go to the state government for permission to unionize, which would also alter the state of college football. Think about it: if private schools have to pay the players, and public schools don’t, do you really think anyone is going to want to play for free when others aren’t? Nope.

So is it just about money?

Glad you asked! It’s also about long-term health coverage. Football is rough, and many of the players won’t make it into the national league after college, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have lifelong injuries from their college football days. As it stands now, after college, you’re on your own when it comes to dealing with those injuries. So kind of like that "old football injury" your dad always talks about, just way bigger. There is also the broad issue of education at play: Students on athletic scholarships are beholden to sports bodies that don't necessarily have their best interests in mind, and aren't always encouraged or given the time to attain a good education alongside playing sport (google "NCAA treatment athletes" for a primer on the conflict between sports and academic quality).

Why would the schools fight this?

Because it isn’t necessarily their fault. College football hasn’t always been a multi-million dollar industry, and in many respects colleges are just going along with the rising tide. But there also hasn’t been much reform, both in terms of colleges or the treatment of players, so it seems like now might be the beginnings of that.

Should I try out for college football?

Uh, do you know how talented these dudes are? Like, they don’t just try out, they work long hours, train, suffer. You’re special in other ways. :-)

What’s next?

Northwestern’s appeal to the NLRB is pending, but whatever the result, it’s clear that some sort of agreement is going to have to be reached. Players are valuable to the school, both financially and ranking, so they want to make sure they’re happy. It could turn legal, but hopefully it won’t.

What do you think of the move by these college footballers to get better compensation?

Topics: Life
Tags: college, college football, education, athletics, sparksplainers, athletic scholarships, ncaa, hut! hut!

Write your own comment!

About the Author
H. Alan Scott

I'm a writer/comedian based in LA and NYC. My work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Thought Catalog,, MTV, Logo, Splitsider, The Advocate Magazine,, Sirius XM Radio, WitStream, and my Mom's refrigerator. Oprah said my name. In 2012 I got cancer. I tweeted/blogged about it with #Chemocation for various media outlets. Follow and support #Chemocation at

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email