Is Now the Time for College Athletes to Start Getting Paid?
There has been an ongoing debate amongst college basketball fans, players, and staff about whether or not college basketball players should make money for playing basketball for their college. The NCAA has just finalized a rule change that allows college players to be compensated for their name, image, and likeness, but is this enough? With plenty of new paths and options for these prospects to take to get to the league, now is the time for these athletes to make money for playing their sport.
The traditional argument for college athletes being paid is that they work hard to win for the schools and bring national publicity, attention, and sometimes championships to their colleges. For example, in 2019-2020 the University of Dayton became a household name among college basketball fans all because arguably the best player in College Basketball, Obi Toppin, played basketball there. If not for Toppin playing in Dayton, teenagers across the country would not be talking about this college in Ohio. In 2019, 4.3 Million people tuned in to ESPN to watch Duke vs UNC, making that game the most-watched college basketball game of all time—all thanks to the hype and excitement of Duke players Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. There is no better publicity for colleges than these students playing sports, wearing the name of a school across their chest. Therefore, these students should be paid for bringing this attention and love towards their schools.
The counterargument to this, however, is that they get scholarships and free college education, and therefore they should not need any additional compensation. Yet, the rebuttal for this counter-argument is that these players have to train and practice tirelessly to be on these teams. Most Division 1 NCAA players dedicate at least 40 hours a week to the team, including travel time, practices, games, and training. Since these players are spending so much time trying to help the colleges win games and grow in popularity, they do not have enough time to focus on their free education. Zion Williamson was interviewed by SLAM magazine a couple of years ago and he said one of the many many many reasons he committed to Duke University was because of the great education and interesting course selection. Looking back at his reason for attending Duke, even Zion admits he overlooked how much time he would commit to the team and he did not have enough time to take advantage of all the educational opportunities he had in front of him.
With new changes to rules, and creation of new programs, now is a better time than ever to allow college athletes to be paid as an incentive to go to college. In 2006, the NBA changed the rule that allowed players to go straight to the NBA from high school, and made it that a prospect had to be at least one year removed from high school. Before this rule, players were allowed to declare for the NBA Draft the year following their high school graduation. USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt first reported that the league has proposed to the NBPA that this eligibility rule be changed for the 2023 NBA Draft, and that the right for prospects to declare for the NBA Draft following the graduation of high school should be restored. When this change gets passed by the NBPA, then college athletics is in trouble, because prospects will forgo their collegiate careers to go straight to the NBA, and the NCAA will see a dip in star power in their league. Players will not want to go to college as a step to get to the NBA. Instead, they can just go to the NBA right away and get paid millions of dollars! Proof that this will happen is that before this rule was enacted in 2006, stars went straight to the league instead of going to college. Kobe Bryant has confirmed that he would have played for Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke if he did not forgo his college years, and there is speculation that Lebron James would have played at Ohio State if he had had to be one year removed from High School. Talents like these will be lost from the NCAA again if these athletes can go straight to the NBA. If college players can be paid, then there will be an incentive and reason for these players to go to college, get paid, and continue to develop and increase their draft stocks, instead of going straight to the league. Another alternative to college is going pro to different overseas leagues. The current rule is that players have to be one year removed from high school to enter the league, and this includes going overseas and being paid. In the past, top prospects coming out of high school have opted to take their talents overseas for one year and make money while preparing for the NBA. Prospects like Emmanuel Mudiay, the #2 ranked prospect just behind #1 Jahlil Okafor in 2015, was projected to commit to playing at SMU but decided to accept a 1.2 Million dollar deal to go overseas to play in China. Orlando Magic guard RJ Hampton was ranked as the #5 best prospect in the county in 2019, and he also decided to play in New Zealand instead of going to college. If college athletes were paid, then there would be a reduction in the number of players that go overseas. Players could just go to college, making money while staying in the country.
The newest path to get into the NBA is the G-League. The G-League, the NBA’s minor league, started a new program this past year called the G-League Ignite, which is a team in the G league designated for players coming out of high school. The purpose of this team is for players to grow and develop, then take the next step into the NBA. The pros of playing on this G League ignite team include getting paid a G league salary, getting coached by NBA level coaches, and competing against NBA level players. Additionally, a player can go to G League Ignite straight out of high school. The year on the G League Ignite counts as a year removed, so you can declare for the NBA Draft the following year. This past year, five of the top #30 ranked prospects chose to accept deals and join this G league team. It started with Jalen Green (#3 ranked prospect in 2020) who was widely considered a lock to commit to the University of Memphis. Green shocked the college world when he accepted a $500K deal to play for the G League Ignite, and then he recruited 4 other top prospects to join him instead of going to college. Another program similar to this is the Overtime Elite.
If the NCAA allowed college players to make a salary, then prospects would not want to go to a G League team. They could get paid for playing in college, while getting NBA scouts’ and fans' attention from nationally televised games and stats. College Athletes need to be paid so that they have an incentive to go to college. Instead of choosing other playing options, players will work hard to bring attention and banners to their colleges.