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Student athletes are being exploited then punished for it

Imagine if I told you I wanted you to physically work harder than most people do their entire lives, take a beating on a regular basis, and risk serious injury for a job. Then imagine I told you I was going to reap all of the benefits while you had to wait anywhere from one to five years to receive any kind of compensation, if you were good enough.

That is what these college programs are doing to their athletes. It seems like every week, someone new from a Division I college program is getting in trouble for receiving gifts, money or other forms of compensation.

Take for example Reggie Bush. He recently “voluntarily” gave up his 2005 Heisman trophy because of speculations that the Heisman Trust was going to take it back anyway. Bush was allegedly accepting an amount of illegal benefits in the range of $300,000 during his time at the University of Southern California.

That is one of the most extreme ends of the spectrum. More recently and more locally, University of Georgia receiver A.J. Green got suspended for selling one of his game-worn jerseys for a lousy $1,000. Former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant was suspended for the entire 2009 season after having lunch with former NFL player Deion Sanders and not telling the NCAA.

Where does it end? Higher-ups in the NCAA are making a lot of money off of these players, but they won’t allow them to go out and get some for themselves. I understand keeping the integrity of the game. I’m not talking about making these athletes millionaires before they can buy beer, but they deserve to be compensated. If not by the schools, then by whoever is willing because it’s a shame the amount of money these kids bring into universities but never see.

People argue that scholarships are compensation enough, but a lot of the scholarships are not full rides and do not cover living expenses. The schools get millions of dollars a year while athletes get their classes paid for.

What is the big deal about Green selling a game-worn jersey? OK, if the NCAA doesn’t want its players to be compensated for bringing in more revenue each year, then let them skip college and go somewhere that will let them earn a pay check. Let them play professionally.

But wait, the NBA said a student must be a year removed from graduating high school in order to be eligible for the NBA Draft. The NFL is worse by requiring players who enter the draft to be at least two full years out of high school.

Skipping college is still possible for some athletes. There is the overseas option. But how many 17- and 18-year-old kids are ready to leave their families and go to another country to be a professional athlete? Not too many.

Some of these athletes don’t come from families where money grows on trees. Some of them are pursuing a career as a professional athlete because they are gifted enough to make it and dig their families out the financial dumpster. Now they have to wait before they can help their families? I’m sure the higher-ups in the NCAA are thinking about that while they lounge in their huge houses and drive in their luxury cars, paid for by revenue the athletes bring in.

Pay the players. It doesn’t have to be much. The NCAA is worried about point-shaving and illegal benefits but maybe if they paid the athletes themselves, the players wouldn’t have to look for other ways to bring in some cash. They can’t get a job flipping burgers like most college students because their athletic schedule doesn’t allow much free time.

People are unhappy with the amount of athletes who do leave college early once they meet the required time spent out of high school to pursue getting paid for their talents in the pros. Maybe if you compensated your athletes, they wouldn’t have to leave early to get money for their families. Maybe they would stay in school, graduate and get a degree on which to fall back once athletics isn’t an option anymore.

Schools are exploiting their athletes for their own benefit. Lots of high school graduates choose what college to attend because they have grown up cheering for University of North Carolina basketball or grew up watching Notre Dame football take the field every Saturday. Tuition is paid to the school, but the athletes see none of it for bringing it in.

Alumni clubs and boosters donate millions of dollars a year to their alma mater because they love the athletics and then get treated like kings during games in the high sky boxes and suites. Yet the student athletes still aren’t compensated. It is exploitation at its finest.

If you’re not going to compensate an athlete for everything he or she does for your school, then do not punish them for receiving other benefits elsewhere. The NCAA wants to have its cake and eat it too. It’s not right, and it needs to stop.

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