The debate over college athletes receiving compensation has been a hot topic for quite some time. From NBA player LeBron James to Senator Bernie Sanders, the issue has been brought up by athletes as well as politicians. The influence that is associated with a player’s jersey number or name becomes synonymous with the university team and sometimes even a brand by itself. As the likeness of athletes is distributed to thousands or even millions of fans through collegiate merchandise, the student-athletes themselves receive no monetary reimbursement.

This is explained in greater detail by former NBA player Jerome Williams in a 2020 Vox article. 

“For years, student-athletes, especially those from minority communities, have been disadvantaged from monetizing their image, or what we call ‘player intellectual property,’ said Williams. “There’s an ongoing revenue stream college athletes are not a part of.”

During April of 2020, the NCAA Board of Governors announced their support concerning the rights to name, image and likeness for college athletes along with the athletes being able to take advantage of these rights. As outlined in an article from CBS Sports, within the guidelines college athletes would be able to receive payment from endorsements by social media, third-party product promotion, autograph signing, meet and greets, and their own business endeavors.

Along with the guidelines come restrictions that prohibit athletes and third parties from using school or conference logos in their endorsements. The school or conference can not seek out endorsements on the athletes behalf, make endorsement payments, nor allow outside involvement (boosters) to utilize endorsements to pay for athlete enrollment.

Additionally, the NCAA emphasizes the importance of student-athletes “maintaining the priorities of education and the collegiate experience.” The addition of payment would be the next logical step for student-athletes who have already established brands for themselves in connection with their respective university.

Athletes bring in large revenue for their schools. They are often the driving force for school spirit and sometimes draw in more students or fans. Without compensation they merely contribute to a campus culture that views and treats them as indispensable until their college career is done. The cycle then continues when they are replaced by another group of athletes who are given almost identical treatment.

Out of the top three athletic divisions, many athletes have a greater probability of earning a college degree than leveraging their college athletic career into the professional field. As presented in a 2020 NCAA report, graduation success rates are 86% in Division I, 71% in Division II and 87% in Division III. Athletes are steadily excelling academically while receiving the education promised to them when they first committed. However, they still encounter roadblocks regarding compensation for the use of their likeness and name.

Many students agree that student-athletes should be paid salaries. In a 2019 CNBC article, College Pulse surveyed 2,501 students about their stance on student-athletes being compensated for their likeness. 77% were in favor or strongly favored payment being given. When surveying student-athletes, 81% were in favor or strongly favored payment being given.

In the College Pulse survey, racial demographics were also included. An estimated 61% of Black students said they favor or strongly favor paying student-athletes a salary, followed by 56% of Asian students, 52% of Hispanic students, and 51% of white students.

The highest percentage coming from Black students is not surprising, considering Black student-athletes make up the largest percentage of athletic teams. Their images are typically the most prominent amongst fans and media consumption. A 2019 NCAA report states that Black male and female student-athletes comprise 60% to 68% of college teams in football and basketball alone.

With Black students often composing the majority of a university team in a high-earning revenue sport, their talent and value as student-athletes goes beyond winning championships. Attaining a quality education with scholarships to cover tuition and additional school expenses should not be the sole form of reimbursement for student-athletes. 

Additional compensation for their image and likeness adds the icing on the cake and begins to cover the layers of race, gender and economic reasoning. Athletes contribute to the economic success of their university’s sports programs. Yet, without compensation they rarely ever receive a slice of the cake.