Should College Athletes be Paid?

by March 23, 2011
Kevin Doran

The University of Maryland’s most talented basketball player in history, Len Bias, just two days after being drafted 3rd overall in 1986 by the Boston Celtics was getting ready to live out his dream but instead had his life cut short because of an irresponsible decision involving cocaine. A frantic call came from the University of Maryland’s dormitory at 6:32 a.m. on June 19, 1986, where a young 22-year-old campus hero was sprawled across the floor unconscious and without a pulse. Bias had been killed by a nearly pure form of cocaine that he had been snorting with his friends on his team. It turned out that in the last semester Bias had gotten F’s in three classes and dropped two others leaving him unable to graduate like the majority of his teammates. The nation had just witnessed the birth of the next Magic Johnson and were excited for the big things that life had in store for him. People everywhere were excited for him to be joining up with the returning NBA Championship Boston Celtics joining future teammate Larry Bird but in a moment everything was over because of one poor decision that could have been avoided. The incident involving Len Bias at the University of Maryland spread throughout the country uncovering the corruptions of drugs and academic failure in high pressure, big revenue producing sports forcing government officials to take action. President Ronald Reagan sent Bias’ parents a handwritten note, the Celtics’ Larry Bird called the death, “the cruelest thing I think I’ve ever heard,” the first flowers the Bias’ family received was from Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson’s mother called the Bias’ family, it became obvious that everyone in the country had known Bias’ son. Athletes need to begin to truly understand that they are not just playing for themselves but they are playing for their communities and whether they like it or not all of their choices have a great affect on everyone around them. The NCAA cannot begin to even think about paying student-athletes a monthly salary when these same athletes are struggling to handle their current responsibilities.

An amateur athlete in our society today is anybody who competes in a sport strictly for the love of the game and not for any personal monetary values. Francis Ouimet grew up across from The Country Club in a working class home. He learned the game of golf from his older brother in their families back yard using tomato cans as holes and anything else to they could find to help his game. At the age of 11 he began to caddy at The Country Club and he won the Massachusetts State Amateur Championship which later inspired him to go out for the National Open. In the 1913 U.S. Open Ouimet, a 20 year old former caddy playing a gentleman’s game, did not just beat British legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray but he changed the perception of an entire sport and generation. Growing up in a lower class of society it was extremely uncommon for people to rise up against the odds of paid professionals and win all for a title and no pay. Ouimet played because of his inner drive, his total devotion, love for the game and pride of wanting to be the best.

A few years later in 1980 a group of college hockey players would try their luck on the ice going up against the odds for the same internal drive of wanting to be the best not because of any money thrown in their faces. The U.S. Olympic team made up of college athletes and long shot pros defeated a Russian program that had dominated the Olympics since 1964. The Russians had seven players from the 1976 Olympic team and one who had played in three prior Olympiads. Former executive director of U.S.A. Hockey Dave Ogrem said, “It’s the most transcending moment in the history of our sport in this country.” These young college athletes came together from all walks of life with no means of getting paid but just playing for the love of the game. If the NCAA began to pay athletes some of the beauty and heart that athletes depict when they compete would be lost in their pay checks.”

Revenue generated by student-athletes should be used to help ensure the athletes well being and safety while also pushing to benefit the surrounding local community. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with some of the rising talent eager to be making the transition from high school basketball to high profile college basketball. ESPN  Top 100 High School Basketball players ranks Dezmine Wells #43, Robert Brown #89, #20 in his position Marquis Rankin. These three student athletes will all have the privileges of going on to the next level of playing college basketball for coaches who are making million dollar salaries and will all most likely see the outcomes of the NCAA’s decisions regarding student-athletes receiving money. Brown and Rankin are both committed to go play basketball for Virginia Tech and both also shared the same feelings saying, “Student-athletes should not be paid.” Brown stated. “College basketball is much more pure than the NBA and a lot of that essence would be lost if they were paid.” Rankin pointed out, “If the student-athletes cannot receive the money then the money should be tied back into the schools athletic facilities.” Dezmine Wells, who is committed to go play college basketball for Xavier next season said, “I feel that student-athletes should be paid but based primarily on a financial aid system and the distance the players are away from their homes.”

I had the privileges of not only sitting down with the promising young athletes to ask a few questions with but also attending the same rigorous military academy and helping them out during the year with their basketball team. These student-athletes are some of the most dedicated athletes he has seen and are about to become the most privileged kids in society today living elaborate lifestyles. Their individual experiences in the future should be humbling realizing how lucky they are and should leave them wanting to give back as much as they can to their local schools and communities in any way possible. I recently dropped my full scholarship half way through my college basketball career to chase a bigger dream of a much higher service than myself, to attend the United States Naval Academy. I should currently be an unranked junior playing college basketball but instead uprooted my life for a higher calling. While I was with these athletes I wanted them to take away one thing from me, it was that there is a way to go about achieving personal success and it is measured on how many people lives you change along the way. Regardless of whether or not these three student-athletes received the message they all have bright futures ahead of them and I like what the next generation of college basketball has in store.

The NCAA is making efforts to help support the future of college sports by helping to funnel $750 million over 11 years into funds strictly designed to benefit athletes. This money is ideally going to be used by the NCAA to help fund student-athletes who are looking for clothing, emergency travel, educational and medical expenses, personal needs and also a catastrophic injury insurance. Even though student-athletes do not deserve to make additional salaries there are still small efforts being made to look out for their well-being. These amateur athletes deserve to compete in the same brilliancy as so many athletes did before them trying to earn the right to be called the best and maybe even some day make money as a professional. Until that day comes, the future student-athletes have a lot of hard work, dedication and lessons to be learned from before they are all worthy enough of being able to accept salaries for their individual efforts.

Kevin A. Doran attended Christian Brothers University where he played college basketball on a full scholarship. Kevin’s Buccaneers had success making an NCAA Elite Eight appearance and Conference Championship in ’09. Kevin set records for most 3-pointers made in a game (7), led his team in three-pointers made (45), and three-point field goal percentage (44.5). Kevin was named to the All GSC First Team All Academic Team in 2010. After finishing his sophomore year Kevin decided to attended Hargrave Military Academy through USNA Foundation School where he helps mentor the Post Graduate basketball team. The Naval Academy Foundation recently recognized Kevin as one of only three Honor Scholars in the program. Kevin is looking forward to graduating from his Foundation School in May and moving onto attend the United States Naval Academy entering as a plebe this summer. He continues to work on his book relating his college basketball experiences to wanting to get much more out of life.

Feel free to contact Kevin through his email with any feedback.