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11 Ways College Athletes Are Treated Worse Than Unpaid Interns

09/06/2013 07:35 am ET | Updated Sep 11, 2013

Unpaid interns across the country are questioning the fairness (and legality) of not getting paid for their work. But another group of young adults works hard every day for no pay: student-athletes.

Overworked and often discarded after years of constantly putting their bodies at risk of injury, these young men and women are the basis of a sports industry that pulls in billions of dollars. Yet they often can only watch as video-game companies, apparel companies and coaches cart away millions, while their own scholarships can disappear at a moment's notice.

Some argue that paying college athletes is simply unfeasible, saying it would unduly burden college athletic programs, the majority of which aren't profitable, while also tainting the supposed purity of student athletics. But others say universities take advantage of these athletes by not financially rewarding their efforts.

"If you treat someone like an employee, you have to pay them that way and give them the rights of employees," Allen Sack, a former Notre Dame football player and current professor of sports management at the University of New Haven, said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

So how do college athletes compare to unpaid interns? Let's count the ways:

1. Unlike Unpaid Interns, Athletes Are Punished For Making Money Even When They're "Off Work"
johnny manziel
According to NCAA rules, a student-athlete "may not benefit from the use of his or her name, likeness or image used to promote or endorse a commercial product or entity." This bizarre rule gained national attention in February, when University of Minnesota wrestler Joel Bauman alleged he lost his playing eligibility for selling a song under his own name. (Texas A&M football player Johnny Manziel was also recently suspended for signing autographs.)

2. Athletes' Bosses Make Millions Directly Off Their Success
john calipari
As many as 42 college football coaches earned at least $2 million in 2012, and some college basketball coaches -- including University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari (pictured above) -- make more than $5 million.

3. Corporations Rake In Millions Off Merchandise Made More Popular By Unpaid Players
nike college apparel
Nike took in $4.6 billion in retail sales in 2011 from collegiate-licensed merchandise alone.

4. Oh, And Video Game Makers Also Profit Off College Athletes
college video games
Under NCAA rules, companies are not allowed to use student-athletes' names to turn a profit. Yet video-game makers have found a way around the rule: allegedly creating virtual players in video games that look and play like the real-life players.

5. While The Department Of Labor Protects Unpaid Interns, The Very Organization "Protecting" College Athletes Is Arguably Exploiting Them

duke bookstore
Although the NCAA has rules in place to protect college athletes from financial exploitation, basketball announcer Jay Bilas discovered earlier this year that ShopNCAASports.com was breaking these rules to turn a profit. Meanwhile, unpaid internships must meet certain criteria or are otherwise in violation of the law, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

6. Their "Full" Scholarships Can Come Up Thousands Of Dollars Short, And Athletes Often Have To Pay Just To Finish
ncaa athletic scholarship
In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that the average full scholarship at a Football Bowl Series university came up more than $3,000 short of educational expenses. Most student athletes aren't offered full scholarships anyway, particularly in sports that don't generate revenue.

7. Scholarships Can Be Taken Away In The Blink Of An Eye
red shirt college football
At least in an unpaid internship, interns generally know the duration of their stint with the company. But a majority of athletic scholarships are granted on an annual basis and require a certain level of academic performance, along with "participation expectations” in the athlete's sport. This means that if a student isn't on his A-Game, he could lose his ability to get an education.

8. There's No Such Thing As A 40-Hour Workweek In College Sports
college basketball practice
Many organizations strongly encourage employers to keep the amount of hours unpaid interns work below 40 per week. But NCAA rules only require college athletes to have one day off per week during the season, and it isn't until the offseason that players get two days off per week.

9. Players Are Often Not Protected From Emotional Abuse By The "Boss"
college coach yelling at player
Unpaid interns in most states are protected against certain forms of discrimination and abuse. But it's only so long in a college game before a coach yells at his players. Despite these public displays, college administrators will often turn a blind eye.

10. Some "Bosses" Have Been Found To Physically Abuse Them As Well
mike rice
A video of the now fired former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice showed him shoving and hitting players while being generally emotionally abusive.

11. And Players Risk Their Bodies But Get No Guaranteed Insurance Compensation
hurt college football player
Interns, paid or unpaid, are typically required to be protected under their employer's worker's compensation insurance. Not so for athletes, whose injuries can be career-ending. “College athletes aren’t employees, so there’s no workmen’s compensation," said Bob DeMars, a former defensive lineman for University Of Southern California who got hurt while playing football.

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