If you believe student-athletes are not being properly compensated for playing sports you have never gone to college. This debate has grown in the last decade from a few complaints and suggestions, to a philosophical argument that has grown legs and is threatening to run away. But the simple fact remains — student-athletes are participating in the ultimate college internship and do not need to be “paid to play.”

Internships are coveted by college students who want to begin working in their degree field or who want to network with people who can give them access to quality jobs. Essentially, these internships will provide the real-life work experience students like to put on their resumes when hitting the job market after college.

That is where companies and organizations with internship opportunities come in. They are seeking talented and dedicated students to work for them — at no cost. This means students are expected to produce and provide high quality work for free. As a result, the majority of student interns work in hopes of finding employment with that same company after they graduate.

The career center website for UTSA proves these cases of internships are the life-blood of job employment after college. According to the 2012 National Association of College Employers (NACE), college graduates who took in a paid internship were 60 percent more likely to receive a job offer. Yes, there are some internships willing to pay for a student’s services, but those are few and far between. The survey does show that students who had an unpaid internship actually fared better, if only marginally, than the paid interns.

Now apply this entire culture and process to playing college sports. Student-athletes essentially will have a four-year internship at their university, gaining the same benefits and making the same sacrifices as other college students. The only difference is the craft.

College athletes sacrifice social and personal time in order to practice, study and at times provide community service. That leaves few moments to spend with family, friends or at other curricular activities at college. However, they are doing so with the knowledge that there is a payoff when college is over — the potential high-paying career so many seek.

Internships are all about resume building and networking, and who has it better that the student-athlete in these two areas? Here is what a resume of a college athlete might read: Dedicated four years to working on individual and group projects (mainly preparing and participating in athletic events), learned and developed leadership qualities and sharpened communication and time management skills. Not to mention the abundance of access to reference letters that employers look for in job applications.

In addition, college athletes will meet professionals in various career fields during their time. It’s not uncommon for students to gain employment thanks to what they did on the field or on the court.

There is statistical and scientific proof as well that college athletes are better suited for life after college than non-athlete students. The University Learning Outcomes Assessment (UNILOA) measures college student’s behaviors beyond academics. A 2011 UNILOA study by Dr. Will Barratt and Dr. Mark Frederick at Indiana State University researched the academic and personal growth of student-athletes compared to non-athlete students. The idea was not to focus on GPA’s, but rather on seven characteristics — critical thinking, self-awareness, communication, diversity, citizenship, membership and leadership, and relationships — that better define a student’s chances at success in the real world outside of college.

In summary, Barratt and Frederick indicated through their research that student-athletes had twice as much growth in learning and development than non-athlete students.

The NCAA student-benefits website also identifies a multitude of assistance programs, grants and scholarships available, while every university has tutors designed specifically for college athletes. UTSA, for example, has five people on their academic staff that are available for each specific sport.

The real disconnect is the difference between scholarship student-athletes and non-scholarship student-athletes.

The UTSA athletic scholarship website outlines what scholarship athletes can receive for attending college as a student-athlete. It includes housing (both on and off-campus), the highest meal plan available (you can choose the smaller one and receive the remainder in a cash grant to pay for off-campus eating) and paid-for textbooks.

Yet not every student athlete will receive a full scholarship. Some have to try out and work their way onto a team. But if a non-scholarship student-athlete walks-on to a team and outplays the scholarship athlete, would they get to negotiate a new contract the following semester? No. They may get a scholarship though, and then they are in the same boat and now have a paddle for themselves.

There is a handful of college athletes who draw in ratings and increase attendances for their universities. Those are the few that proponents of paying college athletes are really arguing for. That does not take into account the lesser-appreciated sports that account for a smaller percentage of revenue.

That is why paying college athletes would be uneven for each athlete and sport. Egos of athletes and parents inevitably will lead to complaints about unfair monetary compensation in comparison to other students. The star athlete will feel underpaid after realizing their teammate, who walked on and plays sparingly, has a check worth the same amount.

The rhetoric on this argument has also stemmed from some major college storylines this year have focused on two issues: player licensing and image use.

Ed O’Bannon, a former standout basketball player at UCLA, filed a class action lawsuit in 2009 against the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Company. The case specifically dealt with the EA Sports popular franchise of video games that subtly used player’s images in their games without permission or compensation.

In August of this year, NCAA President Mark Emmert called the selling of player jerseys “a mistake” and said there would be an “exit to that kind of business immediately.”

These incidents also deal more directly with major college sports stars. The NCAA may try to find a common ground but it does show the biggest conception of exploiting college athletes. If you were to become the most talked about intern at Google and they made profit off of a t-shirt with your image it seems fair to be upset over that.

Still, it’s important to remember that universities are not non-profit organizations supporting a cause. They are businesses working in a capitalist environment and athletics is just another way to create revenue.

There will never be one specific way to satisfy this disagreement. What system could satisfy every Division I, II and III college? What system could pay every scholarship and non-scholarship athlete fairly and without dispute?

If college athletes are paid then it’s not college athletics anymore – it’s a profession.

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