Amy Donaldson: NCAA and college administrations should explore compensating college athletes

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 10:55 p.m. MDT

“I think the (money) part is overblown,” Smith said. ‘You don’t go to college to make $50,000. You go to college to get an education. You go to college to help you figure out what profession do you want to be in.”

Pitta said in an interview with 1320 KFAN that he doesn’t think players should be compensated for playing either.

“I think when you come to college you should be a student first and foremost,” Pitta said. “And you should be treated as such. A college education has a ton of value. It may not be immediate monetary value when they’re going to school, but it sets them up for the rest of their lives. I certainly think that’s payment enough.”

Part of the problem, Pitta said, is that this is not a situation that’s black and white.

“How do you compensate players fairly?” he said. “I just think there are too many gray areas. ... I just think we’re devaluing the power of a good education, a college education.”

Both professional football players see the free education as a valuable trade for athletic services offered by college players.

What about players who don’t make it to the professional ranks of a sport? What about players whose careers end in college because of injury? What about players who are great college athletes but just don’t have the body or skills to make it as professional athletes? If a player brings in millions of dollars and represents a university in a positive light, why shouldn’t they be compensated in some way?

Why should a coach or an athletic director make millions when the players can’t even accept free meals?

Last week’s decision, which follows a federal court ruling in November that said extremely popular football and basketball players should be compensated for the use of their likeness and names, illustrates the complexity of this situation.

It is not going away.

And while most of us regular folk would love a free education as compensation for playing a game, the reality is that it’s no longer enough for college football and basketball players. For football players, there is really no other way to the NFL than through college.

So we often ask athletes who have no intention of earning a degree to spend a couple of years in college before we allow them to be paid for their talents. I’m not sure if salaries are the answer, but I know the present system isn’t fair.

In football, there are huge physical risks to student-athletes, and it seems there should be some way to earn money during that time that doesn’t encourage unethical or illegal behavior. Sometimes the best years of an athlete's career come in college. Sometimes an injury ends what could be a promising pro career.

School administrators, NCAA officials and some form of athlete representation should at least discuss the problem before a court mandates an answer that may not be the best solution for anyone.

The answers to these issues will come only when the NCAA acknowledges that players deserve a piece of the pie because, frankly, it’s a pie that doesn’t exist without the players.

Twitter: adonsports EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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