[10/7/19] – California Paying Athletes

2019 marks the 150-year anniversary of college football. When it began, football was a wildly disorganized and violent sport. Severe injuries and deaths were not uncommon. When President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, a football player at Yale, was injured in a game, then President Roosevelt called in the directors of athletics of mostly Ivy League schools to demand change…and the NCAA was born. Flash forward 150-years, safety is still a top priority of this governing body of college athletics, and so is profit. Strong arguments exist on both sides of the aisle related to paying of college athletes, and California recently made the bold move to allow college athletes to accept endorsements and work with agents. This week, we wade through the emerging story of pay-for-play agreements for college athletes using sociology as a guide. Our discussion focuses on positive deviance, conflict theory, and functionalism.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for California Paying Athletes

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how sociology uniquely contributes to the debate surrounding paying college athletes, or not.

LO2: Understand how symbolic-interactionist, conflict and functionalist theories can be used to explain issues related to opening the opportunity for college athletes to earn revenue.

LO3: Explain the application of the positive deviance to this issue and how this is relevant to driving issues of social change.




Discussion Questions

How might Karl Marx view this issue of paying college athletes? Can his theory of the proletariat vs. the bourgeoise be applied to the relationship between players and their institutions, or the NCAA? Why or why not?

Why might some symbolic-interactionists be interested in investigating how being sponsored influences relationships students have with their coaches, other players, their peers, and educators? What might the paying of college athletes change about the context of these interactions? Why?

How is this an example of positive deviance? Why is it important to always consider the “relativity of deviance” when examining positive deviance as it attempts to function in a way that can change it forever?

Opposition to this measure claims that trading an education for athletic performance is a fair deal. What do you think? Are athletes having their talent exploited by the controllers of the NCAA and conferences and campuses? How might social forces like the social construction of race and gender work to perpetuate inequality among different groups in the context of athletics?

How might paying athletes change college athletics forever? Will college athletes still be able to consider themselves amateur? What about other students who are successful for the school academically? Will they too be compensated for their accomplishments?



1. Positive deviance…

a. …challenges social mores in a way that causes a state of anomie.
b. …challenges the status quo in ways that contradict social norms for the better.
c. …challenges only those who identify as criminals
d. …challenges poor people to be better behaved.

2. From Marx’s perspective, college athletes represent _______ and the NCAA and athletic conferences and campus administrators represent _______.

a. servants; masters
b. oppressor; oppressed
c. proletariat; bourgeoise
d. powerful, weak

3. A sociologist studying the issue of athletes being paid would likely be interested in researching which of the following areas?

a. Impact paying athletes has on relationships between players and coaches
b. Competition created among all students on campus for their accomplishments on campus
c. Function of the NCAA in maintaining the social order of athletics in college.
d. All of the above


Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/South_agency

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