Should College Athletes Be Paid?

Have you heard of Zion Williamson?

Some are calling him the next LeBron James. At 6 feet 7 inches and 285 pounds, Williamson, a freshman basketball player at Duke University, is impressing fans with his combination of size, strength and leaping ability. Many are captivated by his thrilling monster dunks.

On Feb. 20, less than a minute into a nationally televised game against archrival North Carolina, Williamson injured his right knee when one of his Nike sneakers “exploded.” (Watch here to see what happened to the shoe.) With March Madness less than a month away, his injury has revived an age-old question: Should college athletes be paid?

In “Zion Williamson’s Injury Has Some Saying He Should Quit Duke,” Marc Tracy writes:

A freakish injury to Duke’s Zion Williamson, college basketball’s best and most prominent player, only seconds into a game on Wednesday night has instantaneously renewed a debate about the contradictions of the sport’s economic foundation, shining a harsh new light on the N.C.A.A.’s policy of amateurism and the influence of billion-dollar shoe companies.

It also raised an important question: Should Williamson ever suit up for another college game?

Fans were asking the question. An N.B.A. player was, too, even before Duke announced that Williamson had sprained his right knee in the fall.

“It’s a legitimate question,” said Ramogi Huma, the founder and president of the College Athletes Players Association, an advocate for players’ rights.

In the first minute of top-ranked Duke’s game against its archrival, eighth-ranked North Carolina, Williamson, a 6-fotot-7, 285-pound forward whose game is a blend of quickness and power, pivoted with the ball near the free-throw line. As he planted a foot to reverse direction, his left sneaker collapsed and tore apart from the sheer torque of the move.

Williamson fell backward in a split, grabbing his right knee. He walked off the court, and did not return. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward that Williamson had sustained a knee injury, but that the joint was “stable.”

Pending further testing, the general sense is that Williamson — and Duke, and Nike, which made the shoe — had avoided the worst. Williamson, widely considered the nation’s best college player, is expected to be available to Duke in time for its conference tournament or the N.C.A.A. tournament, which begins in a month.

That is, should Williamson elect to return.

Huma cited the example of a top football player who found himself with a more serious injury a few years ago; that player elected to end his college career prematurely, to limit the risk to his professional payday. “To continue to risk his future in an unjust system that doesn’t allow him to be compensated just doesn’t make sense,” Huma said.

The math behind the argument against Williamson’s returning is simple. Per N.C.A.A. rules, Duke is not compensating Williamson, an 18-year-old freshman, beyond a scholarship and the related costs of studying at, and playing for, the university.

That is how the college sports economy works, even as Duke; its conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference; television networks; and, of course, Nike, the apparel company that sponsors Duke and made the shoe that so spectacularly ripped apart, reap billions of dollars from the efforts and talents of preprofessional athletes like Williamson.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— Do you think college athletes should be paid? Or is a college scholarship and other non-monetary perks like the opportunity to play in front of cheering fans enough?

— Do you think college athletic programs, the N.C.A.A. and shoe companies like Nike are taking advantage of college athletes like Williamson? Why or why not?

— In a related Opinion piece, “Paying Students to Play Would Ruin College Sports,” Cody J. McDavis writes:

Paying student-athletes might sound like a fairer way to treat students who generate so much money and attention for their colleges (not to mention the television networks that broadcast their games). But paying athletes would distort the economics of college sports in a way that would hurt the broader community of student-athletes, universities, fans and alumni. A handful of big sports programs would pay top dollar for a select few athletes, while almost every other college would get caught up in a bidding war it couldn’t afford.

Do you find his argument persuasive? What possible difficulties or downsides might there be in providing monetary compensation to players?

— If you were Williamson, would you continue playing for Duke this season and risk injury? Or would you sit out the rest of the college season and enter the N.B.A. draft — where he will likely be the No. 1 overall pick and earn a multimillion-dollar contract?

Article originally posted on The New York Times

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