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For decades, the discussion of whether or not student-athletes should be paid or compensated for their roles in athletics has been debated. Some of the biggest scandals in sports history are associated with recruitment infractions and financial benefits. 

Numerous investigations have peppered NCAA schools as varying levels of payoffs and infractions have been considered, and it has led us to the point where we seem ready to discuss compensation for athletes. 

When we begin to consider the amount of work, pressure and time that goes into maintaining being a student as well as an athlete, the first factor to understand is the near impossibility to have a job within the entire mix. Balancing practices, workouts and games, along with classes, tests and study groups is nearly impossible as it is. 

A second factor to put into consideration is the perception that all student-athletes are on full-ride scholarships that cover all of their tuition. This is grossly incorrect as each sport is slated with a scholarship cap from the NCAA. For example, Football Bowl Subdivision programs, also known as the FBS and includes the upper Division 1 programs, has a cap of 85 full-ride scholarships. In contrast, baseball is only allowed 11.7 full rides. 

Often times, even at Oregon State, we see rosters with a higher number of student-athletes than available scholarships. The three-time national title holding Beaver Baseball program has 37 rostered players for the past 2019 season. Therefore, it is inevitable that a portion will likely not have any scholarships at all while most will receive a quarter or a half of a scholarship. There will likely be a couple that have a full ride or a higher scholarship portion but, overall, the team as a whole will mostly have split scholarships. 

These considerations are important when paired with the fact that currently college athletes are barred from gaining any third-party endorsements from companies for using their name or their image. For example, hypothetically, imagine the McDonald’s corporation wants to use a student’s name and image to promote a product. A normal student with the university is allowed to do so and gain profit from it. A student-athlete is not. 

Unfortunately, the implications of legislation, such as California’s Fair Pay to Play bill, are impossible to control at this point and we are on the verge of Pandora’s box. Once national regulations and permitances are implemented, there will be no going back. 

OSU Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development Kimya Massey said the opportunity given by these proposed rule changes allow for the athletes to benefit from their own name, image and likeness while also giving them the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and advance their business ideas. 

“There is a possibility that only a small percentage will benefit, which could impact those who will not benefit,” Massey said via email. “There could also be third-party individuals who may try to take advantage of incoming student-athletes and who may put them in tough situations.” 

Massey said these discrepancies and inequalities that may result from varying levels of outside financial gain could impact team chemistry. Another major concern is how implementation could affect Title IX and equality for men and women athletes. As higher profile athletes could continue to benefit, it is important to note that this could create real and perceived inequalities between men’s and women’s sports. 

Halli Briscoe, senior gymnast and president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, is also a Student-Athlete Leadership Team representative and attended the PAC-12’s Fall SALT conference to discuss the topic of these pay to play legislations. 

“I speak for the majority of OSU and PAC-12 athletes when I say: As student-athletes, we are not in agreement with SB 206 passed by the state of California, nor are we in agreement with any copycat bills pertaining to pay for play,” Briscoe said via email. “However, we do feel that an athlete should have the ability to profit off of their name, image, and likeness as long as they are using it to advance their own professional development as any regular student would be able to do. We do not support a new system that mimics professional sports, we want to keep the culture associated with college athletics as best we can.” 

Briscoe said she firmly believes these acts are not equitable for all student -athletes. She said they will benefit the top 2% of athletes, therefore dropping support for the other 98% both from the university and from third-parties. 

“Right now it is hard to determine the effects of introducing these new proposals, but when considering hypothetical situations, we do see the potential decrease in resources each athletic department will be able to provide,” Briscoe said. “[This] could lead to cutting entire teams from universities, specifically teams that do not provide much income.” 

Beyond all of the impacts, the biggest concern is the absence of limitation. We cannot determine the impacts of these inequitable acts if there is no limitation. As the NCAA faces this Pandora’s box, they must consider the disparities between programs and universities. 

Schools with higher exposure to media will gain athletes who belong to this top 2% when they see the opportunity to earn more money with certain programs. There is also no ability to limit how much student-athletes would make. This increases the division between these two levels. Imposing a cap is an important step in the equity of this legislation. 

An example of a cap that could be employed for earning money could be limiting any external endorsement or funds to a total dollar amount. This dollar amount could be the equivalent of a working 20 hours a week at minimum wage within their city. A regulation like this could be translatable to any city in the country and would be equitable to the same amount a student could earn with an on-campus job as a full-time student. 

The argument is not that student-athletes should not be paid. The argument is that they should have the same opportunities as other students to be paid for their image, name and likeness under equitable measures that can be enforced across all schools. Each program and each athlete should have the same opportunity to earn money and better themselves. 

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