With the proliferation of billion-dollar television contracts and customized branding opportunities in the age of social media, college athletes are receiving more media exposure and generating more revenues for their programs than ever before. However, a dichotomy does exist. While these student-athletes generate millions of dollars for their respective programs, many of them struggle to enjoy the true college experience because they lack the financial means to do so.
Contrary to popular belief, a full-ride athletic scholarship does not cover the true cost of attending college. While tuition, room and board and meals are covered, the cost of clothing, travel to and from school and spending money for the weekends are not. As a result, many of these student-athletes cannot even afford to go to dinner and a movie on a Saturday night. Further, the time demands of their sport (including practices, after-hours studying of the playbook and travel to and from away games) prevent these student-athletes from picking up part-time jobs for supplemental income. The stark reality is that a Division I athlete in a high revenue producing sport is employed in a full-time job. The word “amateur” is a hollow misnomer.
While there is tremendous value in a free education and investment in human capital, due to the extreme disparity between revenues generated for these academic institutions and the bleak financial condition of these student-athletes, payment of a stipend is more than justified. Universities are making millions of dollars in revenues off these student-athletes not only from television contracts, but from licensing, merchandising and selling jerseys, calendars and photographs containing their numbers, likenesses and names. It is unconscionable for a university to profit off a player without compensating him or her in some way, shape or form for his or her grant of rights. While the recent EA Sports ruling [opinion] has prompted the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to create trusts for Power 5 conference athletes (including the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, PAC-12, and Big-12 Conferences). This would allow each athlete access to approximately $25,000 once his or her college playing career is over, this measure provides somewhat of an anti-climactic response. Releasing the escrowed funds after a college athlete’s playing career does not satisfactorily address the need for financial assistance while he or she is enrolled in school. It is analogous to throwing a life preserver to a drowning victim after he has gone under. The student-athlete stipend would provide a real-time solution to these financial concerns.
In addition to improving the quality of life of these student-athletes, another peripheral benefit of the student-athlete stipend would be to limit or negate the influence of unscrupulous characters and agents. These underhanded individuals are notorious for preying on student-athletes in need of financial assistance by offering inducements which would ultimately jeopardize that student-athlete’s eligibility.
Enactment of the student-athlete stipend would not be without obstacles to implementation. The primary consideration would be related to equal treatment. Do universities pay larger stipends to athletes with greater “star power” and more prominent jersey sales? Do universities pay larger stipends to athletes from high revenue generating sports such as football and basketball? Will universities from larger Power 5 conferences be able to “outbid” smaller programs by offering larger stipends to five-star recruits? Finally, how do universities reconcile the student-athlete stipend with Title IX considerations that require equal treatment of male and female student-athletes? How difficult will it be for the NCAA to police schools and enforce compliance once the student-athlete stipend is enacted and regulations promulgated among member schools?
In light of the aforementioned concerns, my proposal would be to pool all revenues generated by a university’s sports programs into one pot and calculate an equal stipend to be paid across the board to all student-athletes irrespective of the revenues generated by his or her sport. The goal should be to find a happy medium with the stipend not significant enough to be considered income from a job, but sufficient enough to allow a student-athlete the financial comfort to enjoy the true college experience.
Eugene T. Lee, Esq. is the Managing Member for MBK Sports Management Group, LLC (“MBK"). MBK is an NFL player representation agency headquartered out of New York City with offices in New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. Mr. Lee and his team have negotiated NFL player contracts totaling well over $3 billion.
Suggested citation: Eugene Lee, NCAA Payment of Players, JURIST - Professional Commentary, June 30,2017, http://jurist.org/hotline/2017/06/eugene-lee-student-athletes.php
This article was prepared for publication by Michael Hutter, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to him at