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Student Athletes Pursuing Endorsements - A Literature Review

In 2019, California passed its new "Fair Pay To Play" Act that allowed college athletes in the state to pursue endorsement and brand deals. An idea that has been under debate for the past few decades; the law marks a turning point for students. This leads to the controversy: does the ability to pursue endorsement deals achieve a balance between further compensating student-athletes and retaining the integrity of collegiate sports? Because of the uncertainty of a professional career, athletes have grown adamant about needing to pay the athletes that represent their college and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). They believe their current compensation does not match the value they provide to their corresponding organization. Although it is true that students do receive scholarships and other modes of compensation for participating in athletics, each source has a different take on whether this is enough for the student-athletes.
One area of agreement between the sources is the acknowledgment that in actuality, the players are already receiving some type of compensation other than physical payment, most commonly through athletic scholarships awarded to the student. Although the literature agrees the students receive scholarships, they argue whether the return is too little for the value these athletes provide to the college. In Jeffrey Dorfman's article analyzing the current compensation awarded to athletes, he discusses how these athletes "receive free tuition, room, meal plans, and some money for books and miscellaneous expenses" (Dorfman par. 3). While Dorfman argues this should be enough of a reward for the students, the other pieces of literature believe they deserve more. The first issue presented is "scholarships do not, in fact, cover the entire cost of attendance" (Parent 234). In reality, they only cover around half the cost, on average, leaving the players to pay the rest out of pocket. This is simply the average and does account for both athletes who received full rides and athletes who got close to nothing for playing at the school. Continuing from this, a few sources emphasize these scholarships are not stable and can be taken away at any moment. Jason Smith, a Next College Student Athlete Director of Recruiting Services, explains, "fewer than 2 percent of high school student-athletes are offered scholarships, and just 1 percent of those receive full rides" (par. 4). This stat is reiterated later on when he explains the scholarship renewal process and the uncertainty of continued compensation. The scholarship renewals can be canceled if the athlete starts having poor grades or "gets in trouble, poor performance on or off the court/field, among others" (Smith par. 9). Smith also discusses controllable aspects of a student's life but does not touch on a few factors that a student may not have any say over. A student has the strong possibility of losing his scholarship due to the addition of new players, a coaching or staff change, or injury sustained during a game (Bryan sec. 5). These uncontrollable variables could be the reason for an athlete becoming thousands of dollars in debt.
The problem of underpaying scholarships comes firstly from the unequal wealth distribution from the college. David Berri reemphasizes this statement through his research conducted on the Duke men's basketball team in 2015. During their championship run, their "team generated $33.7 million in revenue. Of this, $6.04 million went to Mike Krzyzewski (the team's head coach). In other words, Duke paid 17.9% of team revenue to its coach" (Berri 486).
This directly contrasted the minuscule amount of revenue that went back to the players. In comparison to Krzyzewski, each player was only awarded the cost of attendance, totaling a mere 2.4 percent of revenue for the entire roster. This data accounted for the varying amount of money given to each player including a few who were not offered the full cost of attendance. This small percentage is due to the spending cap placed by the NCAA on the students, which in turn, reveals the hypocrisy of the rules. In an interview with the California State Senator Kevin Murray, he states, "If you get a drama scholarship or a music scholarship or any other art scholarship, there's no limit to the amount of money that they could potentially give you. Why should the NCAA limit what the school wants to offer for athletes particularly when athletes generate money for the school?" (Murray). In the interview, he displays his dissatisfaction with the rules against allowing colleges to provide more for their athletes. The athletic scholarships only cover the cost of attendance, whereas, like in the interview, he states the college is free to provide more than needed for scholarships regarding music or the arts. The spending caps created by the NCAA have forced colleges to limit scholarships within the university given to the athletes. For many other scholarships, any payment by the college that is over the cost of attendance can be awarded to the student in a stipend. This is not the case for athletes and the sources try to shed light on the hypocrisy of some of the rules.
The research articles also give context to the current standings of athletes and their studies. Nicole Grimit discusses the academic dilemma in her article, "Effects of Student Athletics on Academic Performance," when she describes the struggles athletes face when trying to balance their grades while also representing their school in athletics (40). The other sources continue this idea by elaborating on the observation that these student-athletes often have to choose athletics over their schoolwork in terms of priority and importance. This leads to serious repercussions where those same students "quickly fell behind due to scheduling constraints" or "exhibit sub-standard academic performance with low graduation rates" (Hariss par. 3; Blutman 21). Michael T. Maloney and Robert McCormick agree with the previous sources by qualifying the claims made. Their study of athletes and performance in school found that "athletes do three-tenths of a grade point worse than regular students every semester" (555).
Because of the effects of athletics on school performance, the other literature suggests these athletes receive other methods of compensation that possess more than just monetary value. They discuss how schools emphasize trying to help these students in their academics through the ability to have access to "benefits not given to regular students, such as tutors and private study areas" (Warren 9). Although Nicholas Rhea Warren simply discusses some opportunities the athletes receive, Sara Sullivan argues it becomes unfair that these students get special privileges, citing anecdotes depicting instances that have occurred in her own school. These are events including, "one on one counseling on how to make their schedule" … "priority registration" … "separate tutoring staff for their athletic program" (Sullivan). She finds it illogical that these students receive extensions and extra credit for the sole reason of being athletes. Sullivan's disapproval of these advantages leads to her main issue, stating, "It is such a shame that athletic ability outshines academic ability" (34). Even with these accommodations, however, academic performance seems to plateau and these "privileges" don't seem to provide any additional advantages. It seems as though these services are not being utilized correctly to provide the greatest experience to these athletes (Koehler 25). In terms of the current compensation, the literature seems to unanimously agree that it is clearly not enough to sustain the students.
The debate of whether to allow student-athletes to pursue endorsement and brand deals has been disputed for the past few decades. As of now, the issue has three main themes that are currently being discussed including the current compensation methods, the future implications of the act, and the NCAA reactions regarding other compensating methods. Although the current literature review only talks about the first theme, the full research paper will incorporate all the other themes along with commentary and an educated opinion on the research question. The current sources agree that the current compensation methods for student athletes must be changed and the primary fix would be the ability to endorse the athletes. Because this has just been signed into law and will not go into effect until 2023, the ongoing debate will continue and the only way to form a true stance will be through continued research and a dive into the various perspectives of the issue.
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