It’s Time for College Athletes to Start Getting Paid

Local colleges rake in serious dough from their athletics programs. Isn’t it time the players finally get a piece of the action?

Illustration by Joe Darrow

These days, it seems like anyone with a significant social media following can score a brand endorsement, regardless of talent or experience. So it’s hard to ignore the glaring injustice that college athletes, who possess a whole lot of the aforementioned qualities, cannot, per a longstanding NCAA rule forbidding them to earn money from playing college sports. California recently passed a bill allowing its college athletes to sign with agents and profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness, sparking a confrontation with the NCAA. Soon after, the NCAA backed down and agreed to make the change. But that process could take years, so Massachusetts should make it effective immediately because this kind of justice can’t wait.

Consider that college athletes put in 50 to 60 hours a week for their teams for no pay, sustaining an industry that raked in $14 billion last year. UMass Amherst alone reaped upward of $37 million from its athletic programs in 2018. But it’s not just the exploitation that makes this an issue: For many elite college athletes, the undergrad years mark their greatest public visibility and highest earning potential, yet they are forbidden from tapping into it. Many come from low-income backgrounds, and relatively few will go pro. They’ll simply return to civilian life, taking their sports injuries with them. The situation is even worse for women, who have fewer professional opportunities.

Here in Massachusetts, you can imagine an athlete such as UMass Amherst hockey player Mitchell Chaffee scoring a lucrative endorsement. Just last year, he was the Hockey East scoring champion and an All-American selection who led the team to the school’s first Frozen Four appearance. Likewise, someone such as UMass Amherst’s Derrick Gordon, who in 2014 became the first men’s D-I basketball player to come out as gay, could have had some earning potential, regardless of his win-loss record on the court. After all, sometimes it’s standing up—or taking a knee—for one’s principles that makes an athlete attractive to brands. “We have already allowed our students who are resident assistants at [campus dorms] to collectively bargain with the institution over their working conditions,” says Lisa Masteralexis, a UMass Amherst professor of sports management. “It doesn’t seem like a far stretch to say student-athletes, who are also working on behalf of an institution, deserve the same.”

In other words, it’s time to give our college athletes the same rights everyone else has to monetize fans’ adoration.

Who Stands to Earn?
Massachusetts has scores of athletes who are endorsement ready.

Total Division I teams in Massachusetts

Division I women’s teams in Massachusetts

People following current Boston College running back A.J. Dillon on Instagram

Boston College football players drafted by NFL teams in 2018

Boston University hockey stars currently playing in the NHL

Harvard alums currently in the NFL