No money, mo’ problems
UB athletes weigh in on hot-button issue: Should college athletes get paid?
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 02:09
On May 13, former UB football player Steven Means signed a four-year, $2,351,752 contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a college athlete, he wasn’t as fortunate.
Means worked two jobs during one summer before the season to get by. Some nights, he slept in his truck outside of UB Stadium just so he wouldn’t oversleep morning workout sessions.
Athletes who remain in Buffalo to train in the summer receive housing and food allotments if they’re registered for summer classes. If they aren’t, they don’t receive money, and as a result, some UB athletes struggle with living expenses.
Recently, the multifaceted question of if college athletes should get paid has been deliberated among many in the country, including current and former UB athletes.
“Unless you took summer classes, you didn’t get nothing,” Means said. “So if the coach demanded you to be there and you weren’t taking classes, you had no income unless you found a job, which most of us had to do.”
Means worked at a mission home and a Dollar Tree in Buffalo, on top of his daily football workouts.
He isn’t the only UB athlete who struggled during the offseason. A current athlete, who asked to remain anonymous, believes athletes should receive more money in the summer.
“I think the scholarship is OK, but there should be more money given to athletes in the summertime, especially when we sacrifice our summers to stay on campus,” the athlete said. “It’s not right that we live on a Ramen-noodle diet but are expected to train at a high level in the summer.”
Means’ assent from the college ranks to the professional level is rare; 1.7 percent of college football players make it to the NFL, according to Business Insider. Many college athletes spend their time at universities serving as a source of revenue for the school. They come in for four years, showcase their skills on the field and live with little to no money as schools and the NCAA make millions.
Of course, this isn’t the case for every school and athlete. Despite the national recognition Buffalo’s Khalil Mack has received and the idea of possibly being selected as a top pick in the NFL Draft, he is not the multi-million-dollar cash-cow that Johnny Manziel is for Texas A&M.
Last week, The Spectrum addressed whether college athletes should get paid in its editorial “Moneyball.” The editorial board decided student-athletes deserve higher stipends – based on team-specific sports – for the time put into their athletic commitment, which takes away time to potentially have a job.
“There’s not enough benefit; there’s more that college athletes should be provided,” Means said. “I don’t know to go as far as [getting paid], but we didn’t have a lot of benefits at our school to be well off. Most of us were struggling; a couple people were comfortable.”
The Spectrum asked some UB athletes to weigh in on the debate. They wished to remain anonymous. Here are a few comments:
“People walk around with people’s jerseys on. I was at the football game, and I see people with Khalil [Mack]’s jersey on like 100 times. You’re not getting paid for people wearing your name.”
“People from the outside looking in say, ‘Oh, if I had school paid for, I would do this and that,’ but people don’t know what we go through on an average day. They wouldn’t be able to keep up with our schedule at all. It’s not easy. You are doing that and struggling with no money.”
“I definitely think we should be paid. Everybody goes through a lot of stuff, but on top of that, we go through everything and more. We have three, four practices a day, then we have to go to class and have time to fit in our schoolwork. It’s definitely a lot of work.”
Payment was a recurring theme amongst their responses, though how much exactly seems to be an unsolvable calculation.
It’s not that simple. Different universities bring in various revenues, and their sports and players don’t have equal responsibility for those revenues produced.
Byron Mulkey, a former men’s basketball player at UB, understands where these current athletes are coming from. He suggested implementing a system in which all student-athletes have an account; they then could receive extra stipends by maintaining a GPA or reaching a certain benchmark in their sport. The players could withdraw the money after graduation.
Even Mulkey admits coming up with a solution isn’t easy.
“I see where [student-athletes] come from; it’s just a matter of what percentage and what is being paid,” Mulkey said. “I do feel the way the business model is set up is obviously skewed and it’s unfair. It doesn’t make sense, at this point in time. For [the NCAA] to be a multi-billion dollar operation, something has to be done to make [the system] more ethical. I think a stipend would suffice.”
Many believe being a student-athlete is a full-time job because of daily practice – sometimes two or three per day – on top of games and a full course load. The athletes said they understand the value of a scholarship – it wasn’t handed to them but earned.
One UB athlete, who asked to remain anonymous as well, offered a different opinion:
“In college, a lot of people end up in debt, and for many athletes, myself included, it’s really nice to not have debt. To get my school paid for is good enough for me. And I think that’s all college athletes should get.”