College sports is a multi-billion dollar industry and yet it's against NCAA rules to pay the very people who make the industry possible. This at the same time the NCAA President earns almost $2MM per year and coaches can make upwards of $6MM.
Most defenses for the status quo circle around "they are getting a free education" or some variation. It's a defense that ignores 3 realities:
- Not all athletes are good students who would/should be in college. There are countless examples of cheating and grading scandals across the college landscape as evidence of this.
- The education some of these "students" receive in college is not all that valuable. Some of the degrees these students major in can hardly be described as a fallback option, if the athlete even stays to finish his degree.
- Scholarships are year-to-year, which means that a scholarship can be withdrawn for things like serious injuries, making the "free" education significantly less free.
If you're not convinced these athletes should be able to sell their services to the highest bidder like the rest of us can, ask yourself this one question: If the NCAA wasn't colluding against these athletes, would some/many/most be paid? It seems obvious that if schools wouldn't be willing to pay athletes there would be no need for a rule preventing schools from paying athletes.
Once people see the folly of the current system, the most common followup questions are "who gets paid?" and "how much?". We don't have to answer those questions; the schools will figure that all out on their own as the market evolves. In the end I don't think that every athlete would be paid, in the same way not every athlete receives a scholarship now. I think it will follow basic supply and demand -- the best recruits in the most revenue-producing sports will be paid the most and down the scale it would go, just as sports contracts are basically structured now.
The solution to this issue isn't to require that all college athletes be paid, but to remove the restriction currently preventing any athletes from being paid. After that, let the market sort it out.