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The Value of a Student-Athlete Education

I was fortunate enough to go to the NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks ago with a group of my classmates.  As many of them have already expressed, it was an amazing opportunity not only to network, but also to listen to the major issues that are currently occurring in college athletics.

A major theme throughout the weekend was the need to address rising commercial activity within intercollegiate athletics.  The State of the Association Address focused on this issue and the need to find the right balance–a balance that ensures that the principles and values of higher education are not compromised.

That got me thinking a lot about the topic of whether student-athletes should be paid.  Although this was not specifically addressed in the state of the association speech, I think that it is an indirect side effect of increasing commercial activity—it seems that in some ways commercial activities have contributed to an altering view of the student-athlete. The focus is being placed more on the athlete in student-athlete than on the student in student-athlete.

I am in complete agreement that some commercial activity is necessary and that it has been a critical driver in generating revenues for athletic departments.  Without it, facilities, salaries and the overall well-being of the department would suffer.  However, I think increasing commercial activity has also blurred the meaning and mission of a student-athlete.


Student-athletes are students first and athletes second.  Yes, athletics is a major part of their lives. It probably helped them gain admission to the school they are attending. But the ultimate reason they are there is to get an education and in my eyes, the value of an education does not have a price tag.

Many people argue that student-athletes should be paid because they are helping college athletic departments generate substantial revenues and therefore should share in the department’s profits. However, I disagree. The purpose of attending school is to get an education, not to make money. Interestingly, many of the student-athletes who are arguing for this profit-sharing are themselves receiving some sort of scholarship, which often includes tuition, fees, books, housing, meals, etc. Many of these student-athletes also have access to money through the NCAA opportunity fund for living needs. Not to mention they often get equipment and apparel and get the opportunity to travel around the country for games and championships. Since when did that stuff become insufficient? It seems that some people have lost sight of the value of an education and the purpose of engaging in sports at collegiate institutions. Although developing and refining your skill as an athlete is important, the more important skill that participation in college athletics teaches you is how to succeed in life. It builds character, mental toughness, time management, and so many other important life lessons. Participation in sports is an educational tool unto itself—and this fact is too often lost. A student-athletes job is to get an education. Athletic participation is an added bonus.

I am a former student-athlete and my time as a student-athlete was one of the best times of my life. I obtained an education from an outstanding university, formed friendships that will last a lifetime, and learned the value of hard-work and dedication. I attribute much of my personal and professional success to my participation as a college athlete.  Accepting a salary or other money beyond that of a scholarship would have not only diverged from the mission of obtaining an education, but also lessened the true value of my student-athlete experience.

-Melissa Somadelis

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January 29, 2009 - Posted by | Legislation, NCAA, NCAA Compliance Issues, Uncategorized

6 Comments »

  1. Melissa I love your comments and for some sports you are pretty close to being correct in your assessments (observations and personal) but we cannot sit with tons of empirical research and examples to the contrary that college athletes are always students first–even in the so called revenue sports. Overall you might be closer to correct, but like an overabundance of commercialism blurring the line, the athletic scholarship itself blurs the line between whether a college athlete is a contract employee for an athletic department where the athletic endeavors take priority, or a truly immersed college student who plays varsity sports as a beneficial extra curricular activity.

    The scholarship as it stands is a one year award that can be canceled for any reason at the end of the term of the award (and the appeals process to an outside entity is basically a fraud) constitutes the athlete as an employee because they are performing a service for pay, that can be taken away for an athletic reason. This without collective bargaining rights or workmans comp benefits. By any other definition (Please read a recent Michigan Law Review article by Robert and Amy McCormick–“The College Athlete as an Employee”) they are workers, poorly paid at that.

    So we can argue pay–but the fact is they are already getting paid under something that is masquerading as an educational award. If we were truly interested in educating the athlete–we would go back to making the scholarship a five year, no-cut scholarship that can only be taken away for an academic or fraudulent misrepresentation as defined by the institution by an entity outside the athletic department. I know people will say coaches have to win, etc.–but that is precisely the problem. If we are here to educate-this is a no brainer. We could let them take the major they want without complaining about some missing 30 minutes of practice, go to another grad school without losing eligibility, etc

    We can also institute a one year residency requirement for all athletes, prohibiting competition off campus for one year so they can get acclimated to college and the academic rigor that is coming–and it may enable some athletes to better function as individuals and real college students–but this is an argument for another day.

    So no Melissa–I do not think athletes should be paid or continued to be paid as they are now. Give them a five year academic award with the criteria listed above, add in a modest living stipend (which the NCAA can afford) which many non-athletic scholarships like ROTC and Honors already have, and make it about education. Until we can come to a point of understanding that they are already getting paid, but do not have the employment, much less the educational benefits required and needed, the conversation really cannot go anywhere.

    The athletes can change this and they might be the best force to do so, and a future labor rights movement, including unionization may actually happen and that will change the structure of college athletics as we know it.

    Let’s talk more on this. Nice job.

    Comment by ridpath696 | February 4, 2009 | Reply

  2. It should be noted that the student & athlete is already paid. As a previous student & athlete, I received a check in the mail from the university, for food or living expenses or anything it was needed for.

    This current system is not ameteur, as defined by the British ameteur system in the 19th Century, which is the heritage of our current system. Under this system no inducements could be offered for participation in collegiate sports, and sports weren’t a professional or commercial endeavor for the coaches.

    Comment by John | June 24, 2009 | Reply

  3. Yes. ATHLETE SHOULD BE PAID.

    Comment by Anthony | June 26, 2010 | Reply

  4. yES.As a NCAA player and sTUDENT ATHLETE OF Letran. I always try to be the very best athlete that I can be.And the moment we dedicate our talent to the name of the school it is a big opportunity of the school to be more popular in terms of disciplining and developing athletes attitudes through sports.
    And we are not just athlete. student comes first before athlete and we give more attention on our academics. that is why we really remove, bar hopping, late sleeping at night. to discipline our self in motivate our self to develop our “win-at-all-cost” attitide.

    Comment by Anthony | June 26, 2010 | Reply

  5. I like the topic..I am just getting ready to apply for my PhD program and I want to study the impact (or perceived impact at this point) of pay for performance at the NCAA level. I truly believe that if we start paying athletes above and beyond their grant in aid, it will only spiral every 3 or 4 years into more money and will truly change the quality of the NCAA “amateur” product.
    I am hoping to commission a study on perceived impacts soon. Great points though. Not easy ones to figure out

    Comment by Jeff | November 3, 2011 | Reply

  6. Amateurism is dead if it ever existed all. We can no longer take the moral high ground and claim that education and being “amateur” is reward enough when you consider the money involved and we often–too often-fall short is delivering the educational promise. Paying up to the COA is similar to dozens of schollys that exist now and athletes should have the opportunity to get a scholarship that is available to others on their respective campuses. As TV contracts and coaches salaries go up, it is simply the right thing to do and will not fundamentally change anything about college athletics. It will eliminate a facade, and most important–eliminate the excuse of having no money, needing to sell trinkets, tattoos, etc. When that does happen, if it remains a violation, we can at least feel decent about exacting punishment without needing to take a shower afterwards!

    Comment by B. David Ridpath | January 31, 2012 | Reply


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