College Athlete Compensation: Exploring the Debate and Evolving Perspectives (2018-2023)


The question of whether college athletes should be compensated for their participation in collegiate sports has ignited passionate debates over the years. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has traditionally upheld the notion that student-athletes should not receive financial rewards beyond their scholarships and educational benefits. However, as college sports revenue has surged to billions of dollars, the issue of paying athletes has gained prominence. This essay presents a comprehensive exploration of the arguments surrounding compensation for college athletes.

Economic Realities and Fair Compensation

A compelling argument supporting payment for college athletes centers on the substantial revenue generated by college sports. The NCAA, universities, and media networks profit immensely from the popularity of sports like football and basketball (NCAA, 2021). Critics of athlete compensation, however, assert that scholarships and educational opportunities are substantial benefits that athletes already receive. They emphasize the importance of maintaining the distinction between amateur and professional sports, fearing that paying athletes might dilute the essence of college athletics.

Balancing Academics and Athletic Commitments

Critics of compensation contend that the academic pursuits of student-athletes could be overshadowed by financial incentives. They argue that the primary focus of college athletes should be on their education and that athletic scholarships already address the financial aspects of their involvement (NCAA, 2021). Conversely, proponents of payment emphasize the demanding schedules and time constraints that athletes face. The rigorous training regimens and travel obligations can impede their ability to excel academically. In this context, financial compensation could help ease the financial burdens of student-athletes and enable them to better balance their commitments (Edelman & Smith, 2019).

Exploitation and Athlete Empowerment

The issue of exploitation is at the heart of the debate on paying college athletes. Advocates for compensation argue that student-athletes, especially those in revenue-generating sports, often dedicate substantial time and effort to their athletic pursuits, leading to an imbalance between their contributions and the rewards they receive (Edelman & Smith, 2019). Conversely, critics maintain that scholarships and the opportunity to play sports at the collegiate level are substantial benefits that athletes should be grateful for. They assert that playing college sports is a privilege that provides valuable exposure and experience, even without direct financial compensation.

The Shift towards Athlete Branding

Recent years have witnessed a transformation in the discussion, with a growing emphasis on athletes’ rights to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). This shift culminated in changes to NCAA policies and legislation in various states. Supporters of this movement argue that enabling athletes to monetize their personal brand aligns with broader student rights. They believe that such a shift acknowledges the athletes’ market value and offers them a fair share of the revenue they generate (Huma, 2020). Critics, however, raise concerns about potential disparities in opportunities, the potential commercialization of college sports, and the impact on team dynamics (Huma, 2020).

Evolving Perspectives and Peer Review

The debate surrounding paying college athletes has evolved significantly from 2018 to 2023. In 2018, prominent figures like Emmert (2018) emphasized the preservation of amateurism and the potential legal implications of athlete compensation. However, subsequent years witnessed a rise in athlete activism, drawing attention to the challenges faced by student-athletes. This shift led to increased discussions about athlete empowerment and the need to ensure their fair treatment (Smith, 2020). This evolving discourse underscores the dynamic nature of the debate and highlights the importance of considering changing perspectives and circumstances.


The issue of compensating college athletes continues to spark fervent discussions, revolving around economic realities, academic commitments, exploitation concerns, and the changing landscape of athlete branding rights. The perspectives on this matter have evolved, influenced by changing societal attitudes, legal developments, and a deeper understanding of student-athletes’ experiences. Striking the right balance between the financial aspects of college sports and the essence of amateur athletics remains a challenge. As the debate persists, it serves as a reminder of the intricate dynamics of the sports world and the need to address the multifaceted concerns surrounding college athlete compensation.


Edelman, M., & Smith, R. (2019). College athletes deserve to be paid. The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved from

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). (2021). NCAA financial statements. Retrieved from