Whether or not to pay college athletes.
This is a touchy subject. In total, I approached five people asking to interview them. One flat out refused, one accepted as long as they could be quoted with a conditional anonymity, and the other three accepted. This was new to me.
The debate has gained notoriety in the past couple years and has picked up more steam in the past few weeks with the injury to Duke freshman Zion Williamson, the expected first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
The Duke versus North Carolina matchup on Feb. 20 was one of the most highly anticipated games of the college basketball season. President Obama was in attendance. Ticket prices for the game averaged over $4000. Between ticket revenue and the lavish ACC television contracts, it's clear that Duke basketball generates a ton of revenue and attention for the university.
There is less money on the line for athletes at Penn, but the issue is just as relevant. Ivy League programs don’t give athletic scholarships, but rather provide need-based financial aid to student athletes. Ticket prices for men’s basketball games (or any games at Penn) don’t come close to averaging $4000. But the amount of time put in by a student athlete at Penn is similar to the amount of time put in by a student athlete on a nationally ranked team.
I asked a Division I basketball player, who requested anonymity, to take me through a typical in-season practice day at their top-25 program. Here’s what they said:
9:30 - 10:30 a.m. — Mandatory team breakfast
10:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. — Class
1:30 - 2:00 p.m. — Film Session
2:00 - 4:00 p.m. — Organized practice
4:00 - 4:45 p.m. — Individualized practice (shooting drills, etc.)
5:00 - 5:45 p.m. — Shower and team dinner
Student athletes are free to do what they please after dinner.
“They want us to have class between 10 [in the morning] and 1 [in the afternoon], and then after 6. Those are the guidelines they gave us,” the player said.
Angelo Matos, a senior defensive lineman on the Penn sprint football team, quit the varsity football team after his freshman year. This is the varsity football team's in-season practice schedule he provided, though he noted that it’s only a rough estimate.
7:00 - 8:00 a.m. — Film session
8:00 - 9:00 a.m. — Morning lift
9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. — Class
3:00 - 5:00 p.m. — Practice
5:00 - 5:30 p.m. — Shower and change
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. — Dinner
6:45 - 8:15 p.m. — Mandatory study hours (three times per week)
Student athletes are free to do what they want after 8:15 p.m.
Matos emphasized that even when he wasn’t physically at practice or any mandatory football activity, his mind was still on the game.
“One of the first people you meet as a freshman is the nutritionist. I was told by a coach that I needed to gain at least 30 pounds if I wanted to get on the field, so even during meals I’m thinking about football. I was thinking about football all day,” he said.
The most prevalent argument in favor of not paying student athletes is that they are given access to a top-quality education. However, the time required from athletics often interferes with academics. All of the student athletes I spoke to were quick to note that.
“We go to Texas; Raleigh, [North Carolina]; [Washington] D.C. We leave on Wednesday for those meets. We’ll fly out Wednesday and we won’t get back until Sunday. It’s a lot of time,” Penn junior track athlete Olivia Welsh said. “[Our practice] is a big chunk of the day that’s taken out from studying, meeting with professors, other extracurriculars, and stuff like that.”
“I didn’t have enough time for academics to the point that I dropped a class,” Matos said. “I felt a better solution than leaving a team that I already committed to and saw some promise in was to drop a class."
Beyond the time interfering with academics, it can interfere with things like personal interests and hobbies. Junior and former outfielder Jerrette Lee is an interesting case. He was on Penn baseball but quit after his freshman year. He’s now pursuing art with almost all his free time and selling his paintings. He even has a gallery exhibition next week.
“I didn’t have enough time at all to pursue my art. Being able to get my time back and explore interests I had when I was a kid has really been worthwhile,” Lee said. “I’m making infinitely more money from [painting] and putting in less time.”
There are students — like myself — who are paid for on-campus jobs. I work as an intramural referee and get paid $9 an hour. It requires no outside time and no preparation. If I felt in any way that it interfered with my academics, I would not be doing it.
Meanwhile, the student athletes I spoke to all put in over 30 hours per week for their sport during the season. It’s a full time job. It affects their academic performances, their extracurricular participation, their hobbies — and yet, they are compensated monetarily for none of it. What’s different?
CHARLIE DOLGENOS is a College junior from Philadelphia and a Sports Reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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