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.