'This Week': Money Madness

As the NCAA Tournament hits high gear, the growing debate over whether to pay college athletes.
3:00 | 03/23/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Money Madness
For a lot of the average kids who are not going to be able to get a pro career, are these schools making sure they're getting a good education? That they're actually getting a degree? That if they get injured, their scholarships stick with them? Those are the kinds of things I'd like to see the ncaa address. President Obama speaking to ESPN Tuesday. Colleges are raking in the cash this week from March madness TV contracts and ticket sales. But players see none of it. That's why some are new calling for athletes to receive paychecks. But would that ruin the foundation of college sports? Our experts take on the simmering debate after ESPN's Tom farrie. Reporter: Behind the bracketology and excitement of March madness is a multi-billion dollar industry. All made possible by young athletes playing for their favorite schools. In Oklahoma, I was the kid that committed early. Reporter: Kyle was so good that Oklahoma offered him a basketball scholarship in ninth grade. But after a knee injury during practice his freshman year, he lost his scholarship. And with medical bills piling up, he couldn't afford to stay in school. If it was workmans' comp, he would have been taken care of for the rest of his life. He would have been able to finish college. Reporter: The head of the national college players association is fighting for the right of college athletes to unionize. I think it's very clear that the players who are 18 years old are being taken advantage of in many ways by the multi-billion dollar industry will be in a much better situation if they had a union. Reporter: Huma joined Cain colter and took the case to the national labor relations board, arguing that the services athletes provide schools should grant them protections as employees. The ncaa has not moved on critical issues. We have seen unions that have been very effective. Reporter: They are professionals, they perceive college athletes to be something else. Students and perhaps students first. Ncaa players are professional. They are paid to play. They receive at northwestern a scholarship over $60,000 a year. On the condition they play football. That's an employee-employer relationship. Reporter: A new ABC news/washington post poll showed an even split on allowing college athletes to create a union. But on paying athletes on top of the scholarships, Americans opposed that by a two to one margin. The ncaa argues, quote, the overwhelming majority of college athletes participate in college athletics to enhance their overall college experience and for love of the sport, as opposed to the desire to be paid for college sports. But does it focus more on sports than education? When players are spending 40, 50, 60 hours per week in their sport, they are not studying for psychological. It doesn't help you to play football in order to get your degree. Certainly there's a challenge with the amount of time that it takes for competition and travel and such. But the priority goal is for them to get a degree, and we can't lose sight of that. Reporter: Will paying college athletes change the game entirely? Part of the attractiveness of interkreej collegiate athletics is knowing they are amateurs. As long as the ncaa takes care of athletes, handles the support systems and makes sure the athletes get the right medical attention, they make out better than employees and come out with a college education. Reporter: Is that happening right now? No, it isn't happening right now. That's absolutely right. That doesn't mean that we should turn to paying athletes as opposed to reforming the ncaa. Reporter: The question is, will it take athletes to bring about the reforms? For weekweek "This week," Tom fa farrie, Bristol. Thanks, Tom. We have both sides here. Christine Brennan, and ABC news contributor, and Joe Nocera from the "New York times." Joe, I want to start with you. You think this is a great idea to pay the athletes? I do. I think in college football and men's basketball, the athletes are in fact employees in a multi-billion dollar business. You have a multi-billion dollar business with a free labor force. Is that right? President Obama is right. All these other things need to be taken care of too. Not a million dollars or $2 million, but I'm saying given the fact they're not student athletes, they're athlete students, they deserve some compensation. Any argument there, Christine? Even with the student athlete, athlete, student. Joe, this is a multi-faceted argument and conversation that's important for the nation to have. But when you think about paying athletes, you have to think of title ix. This is one of the most well-loved laws of the last half century in this country. Of course, enabling women and girls to play sports. Just like their brothers. If you start paying the male athletes -- If you pay the males, you have to pay the field hockey players. Or you have lawsuits galore. The ncaa tried to do this three years ago by giving a $2,000 stipend and it was roundly defeated. How do you counter that? Seems to make sense. Football and men's basketball are a different category of sport than anything else. The athletes are there first and foremost not to get an education. Many of them major in eligibility. They're there to generate billions of dollars in revenues for the university. That's their job. So I do think it's a different case. You're right. There would be litigation. That's okay. Well, of course, as you know, only about 10% of the major college teams, -- football teams even make money. They don't pay for themselves. Generating money to pay for field hockey or lacrosse orb men's swimming aren't happening. A kid comes in, injured, then out of the program. Then out of the scholarship. Then what happens? Should some things change? If they don't go as far as paying athletes as employees. Should they change? The answer I think is yes. Intelligent people can come up with decisions if someone is injured, a young man or a woman, how they're covered as they go on in life. And I also think the pocket change, the money to go to your grandmother's funeral is important to discuss as well. The ncaa has been a monolith for a long time and unfeeling about a lot of these issues. And the main thing that needs to happen before pay, before anything else, is there needs to be a real organization that can -- that can stand up for the players and push back on a lot of these rights issues. Pay, notwithstanding, there are so many things that need to be done to just give the player a chance for the same rights as other students and the same deal as other students. Just quickly to you both. I love college football. My son plays division iii. Doesn't it change the game fundamentally if you start paying those athletes? How would the fans respond? Americans don't seem to want this. No. I think people would despise it and it could ruin everything. They're getting college scholarships. The value up to a quarter of a million dollars. Plus the exposure, the coaching, the fact they don't come out of college with student debt. There's a lot they are being paid. Quickly. People said that free agency would destroy professional baseball. It did not. Putting money in the pockets of players would not destroy college basketball or football. I think you're going to disagree for ever. Thanks for joining us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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