Don’t Pay College Athletes?

Andy Zimbalist says no to paying college athletes.

It is difficult in the extreme to imagine how a labor market for student-athletes would work. For instance, football teams in Division IA generally have 85 scholarship athletes plus some 30 walk-ons. Should all the players receive a wage? Only the starting 22 players, plus the punter and place-kicker? Of those receiving a wage, how much should they be paid? What about the players on the men’s basketball team? The women? Should the players sign contracts while seniors in high school? And what about the first violinist in the school orchestra or the leading thespians in school drama productions?…

It’s neither economically feasible nor ethically desirable to pay student-athletes.

The argument is not pay all players or pay none of them. Right now, a system where some athletes get in-kind transfers (scholarships), and others don’t is already in place as schools don’t give scholarships to every athlete. Has he not even heard of semi-pro sports? What do violinists or thespians have to do with this? Why not bring in the High-Q team while you’re at it? College artists are free to sell their work to wealthy alumni, and often do. If they generate revenue for the school, I’m all for paying them.

Erasing the dead-weight loss of monopoly is undesirable? Taking away captured surplus of a state-supported cartel is undesirable? I’m not seeing the obvious moral errors here.

Here’s how you do it. If your marginal revenue product is positive (MRP>0), you get paid; if not, you don’t. Some people get paid to produce fine art, others do it for free because they enjoy the activity. Athletics is no different, except for the fact that rules forbid exceptional college athletes from being paid more than a scholarship.

In terms of ethical behavior (on which Andy is no expert), I’m more concerned about the kids generating vast profits for their not-for-profit institutions to host big parties for wealthy alumni to gather for the school’s benefit than I am about the feelings of players who want to play for the sake of playing.

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