Natalia Temesgen

Natalia Naman Temesgen: Time is now to pay college athletes

I can't believe I'm about to say this. Not because it might get somebody's underpants in a bunch, but because it involves a topic I usually have no interest in: college sports. But here goes nothing. I feel it is patently ridiculous that NCAA athletes are not paid.

I recently watched an episode of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" that was almost solely dedicated to making the case for paying student athletes. The show was full of clips from documentaries, news reels and interviews that really brought light to the fact that these athletes are working full-time jobs (as unpaid professionals) while attempting to juggle an academic work load.

With that type of schedule, there is practically no time left for a part-time student job. And while many student athletes have scholarships to cover a campus meal plan, their on-the-road food stipends are so skimpy that they may be subsisting off pretty pathetic meals while trying to run their bodies on a superstar level. That's like putting unleaded gas in a race car and expecting optimal performance.

Even with their "full-ride" scholarships, 86 percent of college athletes live below the poverty line. That statistic is brought to you by the National College Players Association.

And on top of that, many of their coaches earn gargantuan salaries. According to the Washington Post, coaches for the 68 teams that played in March Madness 2012 averaged $1.4 million in salary, not to mention bonuses between $20,000 and $100,000 for advancing to the Sweet 16. The idea that such a huge gap in pay -- can you even call it a gap in pay when the students aren't paid? -- can exist between coach and players inevitably calls to mind a colonial master and his indentured servants.

Indentured servants were contracted to work unpaid, or for pittance, for a certain number of years, typically five. In return, they received paid passage from Europe to North America, as well as room and board while working.

The conditions were harsh, to say the least, and only about 40 percent of indentured servants lived to complete the terms of their contracts. The package deal might have looked good from the outside, but it was rare that a servant would complete his or her contracted term and actually advance into a place of merit in society.

Similarly, college athletes are offered "paid passage" through college, as well as room and board, as they spend time working on the team. With the grueling schedule, academic pressures and potential injuries, some don't make it through the program. Less than 1 percent actually go on to be professional athletes.

Of course this is a generalized analogy and there are innumerable distinctions, but the spirits of each feel similar. In both cases, the "master" seems to be getting a lot more out of this than the "servant."

In today's world, especially when we're talking about higher education -- something we purportedly value in our society -- this whole setup feels misguided at best. It's time to re-evaluate the status quo and compensate these young people.