NCAA Amateurism
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Sports and Health

NCAA Amateurism

Should student-athletes be paid?


  • Amateurism is an NCAA policy that creates a clear distinction between college sports and professional sports.1

  • Amateurism prevents payment of nearly half a million student-athletes annually.2 3

  • To play, student-athletes must sign legal documentation stating they are "amateurs", that they will not accept any form of payment, and that they will follow all NCAA rules.19
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  • NCAA president Mark Emmert believes student-athletes are "not professionals" nor "employees"; they are simply "students".18 
  • Student-athletes are subject to an extremely specific set of NCAA compliance rules.
  • These rules have led to awkward issues such as violations for ham sandwiches12, pasta dinners13, and even cream cheese with their bagels.14



Playing a sport while in college can be equal, if not more stressful than a full-time job. Should student-athletes be contractually compensated for their money-making talents?


Big bucks

The NCAA makes over $1.06 billion annually,5 a majority coming from Division I basketball (e.g. March Madness) and football (e.g. the College Football Playoff). Players receive only a fraction of that revenue in scholarships and stipends.



You need us

Universities need players to help generate revenue. Only 24 of 230 Division I public universities met the NCAA’s benchmark for self-sufficiency in 2013-14.4



End the corruption

Some believe schools and athletes will continue to take advantage of the system until fairer compromises are reached.16



Unlikely to ever be paid

As of April 2018, only 1.6% of football and 1.2% basketball move on to professional careers.20 


Free education

Student-athletes receive a full or partial scholarship that pays for their tuition in exchange for their play.9




Student-athletes often receive a wide range of amenities such as stipends, academic support, interview coaching, laundry service, and medical care.21 The range of benefits depends on the college or university. 



Free publicity

Some argue that the publicity generated around NCAA tournaments is priceless; that the NCAA provides free outlets for the public to know and recognize student-athletes. After college, this can lead to sponsorships, endorsements, and potential professional scouting.



The lawsuit 

The NCAA reached a settlement in a 2017 class-action lawsuit. The settlement upholds student-athletes right to receive more money toward, if not paid-in-full, the cost of attending a university.8 


This lawsuit enables the NCAA to stand by its definition of amateurism, while also assisting those they govern.


  • The FBI is currently investigating at least 20 NCAA college basketball programs to find if college athletes are being paid "underground."17

  • In 2015, the NCAA introduced stipends,10 but players still do not feel they are receiving their full worth.11

  • Read the full list of a student-athletes likelihood to "go pro".

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  • College coaches are among the highest-paid state employees.15



  • In 2014, Northwestern University football players attempted to unionize.16 The National Labor Relations Board overruled a regional NLRB decision and said the players could not unionize.17

  • Are amateurism arguments being made on behalf of these few elite athletes or on behalf of the many more who “go pro” in other fields?

Key Vocabulary