The Ethical Dimensions of Compensating College Athletes

The following are excerpts of ninth grade students’ analysis of the case study “Compensation for College Athletes?” that raises ethical questions about paying college level athletes.

Mia R. ’26

This case study asks the question of whether or not college athletes should be compensated for their contribution to their schools athletic programs? Some key points brought up in the case consist of, the effects that being an athlete has on college students, which individuals are receiving the money brought in by athletes, and the attempts that colleges make to compensate athletes. The case mentions that athletes are being restricted from receiving compensation, however the NCAA receives profits. Although some students receive scholarships, students bring in a lot more money than they receive. When you take these factors into consideration you can use different ethical frameworks to come to an ethical decision.

Photo by Jacob Rice on Unsplash

The first ethical framework I used to analyze this case is utilitarianism. When viewing this case from an utilitarian perspective, you would believe that college athletes should be compensated, as well as, the NCAA. A utilitarian should choose the action which benefits the most people overall. By paying athletes they would become more motivated to play, and would perform better. At the same time the NCAA would still receive money. In turn more people would be benefited. The NCAA would be receiving less money if athletes are given salaries,  however according to the standard of utilitarianism happiness is defined by the amount of people who are happy and not the amount of happiness one person has. If college athletes did not receive salaries for their time and effort only the NCAA would gain happiness while the athletes would not. Therefore, an utilitarian would believe that college athletes should also receive compensation.

I believe that student athletes should be compensated.  Compensating student athletes would ensure fairness and emotional safety. If college athletes continue to not get compensated, but the NCAA benefits, that is not fair for the athletes who put time and effort into their sport. Also, college athletes’ mental health diminishes due to the time they focus on their sport instead of their emotional safety and health. As stated in the text, “Student-athletes sacrifice their own well-being for the benefit of the university and receive relatively little in return.” One assumption individuals may make in regards to the fairness of giving college athletes salaries is that it is impossible to find a way to compensate both the NCAA as well as all student athletes in a fair manner. Another assumption on the emotional safety of student athletes is that because they make the decision to play a sport they can decide to prioritize their well-being instead of practice. Critics may argue that paying college athletes for their contribution to college athletics may diminish the love or pride for the game and representing their universities. However, I disagree! Students playing a sport at a high level had to train for years unpaid. They have developed a love or pride for that sport or their ability to play, and student athletes represent their school whenever they play no matter what their motivations may be. Therefore, I believe that student athletes should be compensated.

Savera R. ’26

This case poses the question: “should student-athletes be paid?” We studied three different frameworks during our trimester: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. While thinking about the sports salary case, I came up with three different options to which I could apply these frameworks: all athletes getting paid the same, student-athletes getting paid based on the amount of revenue they bring in, and student-athletes not getting paid at all (all the money going to the company). 

Kent Place student-athlete

Through the view of consequentialism, it would be said that the most ethical decision through the lens of ethical egoism is for all college athletes to be paid the same amount. This benefits me (the student-athlete) because I am getting paid a good amount for the work and time I put into my sport, and no one is receiving more than I am. This money also makes me much happier, as I feel a strong sense of safety, respect, and belonging (which are all in my criteria for happiness). I feel a stronger sense of safety because by being paid, I am able to take care of myself better and also not have to worry as much about financial security. A way I would feel respected is because being paid is almost like an acknowledgment of the efforts and time I put towards the team I play for. Whereas, if I wasn’t getting paid I would not as much as though my effort was being acknowledged or respected. And, if I was being paid less than another I would feel much less respected as I wouldn’t feel as though I am an important member of the team. That sense of respect also plays into the stronger sense of belonging because I would feel overall much more respected and the sense that I am an important part of the team if I was being paid. If someone was being paid more than me, I could perhaps feel as though I didn’t belong as much. That is why, under the view of ethical egoism, the most ethical decision is to pay all student-athletes the same amount.

I believe that all student-athletes should be paid the same amount because of the values of justice and fairness. The case states that “because these students compete at such a high level, they spend more time training than focusing on academics.” This is evidence that the athletes deserve justice and should be paid for all the time and effort they put into the team. For example, if an athlete is fully committed to their sports team and puts 110% effort and time into it, it would only be fair for them to get paid. Furthermore, “student-athletes sacrifice their own well-being for the benefit of the university and receive relatively little in return.” People have seen that athletes receive little for their efforts and do not think it’s fair. If, for example, you and your teammates put in the same amount of effort but weren’t paid the same amount and so you feel hurt and unappreciated. (we aren’t being acknowledged for our effort and it isn’t fair) I am assuming that All student athletes put the same amount of time/effort into their sport, when in fact some athletes could spend more time focusing on academics and less time on their sport. Some people might wonder: Is it fair for student athletes who bring in the most money to be paid the same as everyone else? I still think it is fair because though they might be bringing in the most money, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the right to be paid much more than their teammates who could be putting in the same amount but not receiving the same amount of playing time or chance to prove it (and therefore bring in more money). 

Tessa V. ’26

All college athletes are playing at a very high level, and their main priority is sports. This high level of competition provides college athletes with very little time for their academics. Some even sacrifice their own well-being for their team. Being a college athlete is very hard, and they receive very little in return. Also, many college sports bring in a lot of money for the college and the NCAA, but these athletes do not usually receive any of that money.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative says that yes, all college athletes should be paid for their hard work and contributions. This passes both of Kant’s criteria because I, a college athlete, would still get the benefit of being paid for my work and contribution to the team, even if everyone else was being paid. This passes Kant’s first step about universalizing actions without undermining the action’s goal. Also, this would also be a reward for everyone on the teams because they put in the hard work, so it would make it so that the school is not using them as tools to win, but as teammates that like to play the sport and get what they deserve for their hard work. This passes Kant’s second step about using people as ends and not means.

Based on Aristotle’s virtue ethics, all college athletes should be paid. The first step makes me aware that in order to practice wisdom I must recognize that all college athletes, including me, put in a lot of hard work into the sport. The second step makes me aware that in order to practice courage, all college athletes must be paid, even if it is hard for the college because they are a small school. The third step makes me aware that in order to practice justice, action must be taken to pay all college athletes the same amount of money to keep it fair. Finally, the way that I will stay consistent is I will make sure that the people paying the athletes show self-control and pay all athletes fairly and make sure that I do not ask for a raise or more money than everyone else.