Table of Contents

ESPN’s Jay Bilas and NCAA’s Oliver Luck to Debate Paying College Athletes

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, October 13, 2015—Two of the most controversial issues on college campuses—freedom of speech and paying student-athletes—will come together in College Station on October 20 as two college sports heavyweights, ESPN’s Jay Bilas and NCAA VP Oliver Luck, debate the proposition “College athletes should be allowed to be paid” on the campus of Texas A&M University at the first debate sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) of the 2015–16 academic year.

With the college football season underway and a related federal lawsuit in motion, the question of whether student-athletes should be allowed to be paid is again front and center on our nation’s campuses. And as usual, arguments over what students and speakers should be able to say on campus make headlines weekly. FIRE Debates aim to bring accomplished and intelligent figures straight to campus to show students across the country that open debate on controversial issues is healthy, productive, and fun.

“I am excited to see two of the biggest names in college sports go head-to-head for the first FIRE Debate,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “The motion ‘College athletes should be allowed to be paid’ is a great topic to kick off FIRE’s debate series. I hope students come away from these debates with a better understanding of opposing viewpoints and a greater appreciation for the idea that all students and speakers must be free to disagree.”

Bilas and Luck will face off in an Oxford-style debate starting at 7 p.m. CDT on October 20 in Texas A&M’s Rudder Theatre. Bilas will advocate for the motion that student-athletes should be allowed to be paid, while Luck will argue against it. The debate will be moderated by Darryl Bruffett, longtime sports director for the region’s CBS affiliate, KBTX, and a familiar presence in Texas A&M sports. The debate is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. CDT.

For those unable to attend in-person, the debate will be live streamed on FIRE’s website.

Advocates of paying college athletes argue that student-athletes should be allowed to receive compensation due to the high revenues the NCAA brings in from broadcast rights and sponsorships. The NCAA insists that students are amateur athletes, stating on its website that “young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.” One of the amateurism rules the NCAA maintains to ensure that college athletes’ first priority is their education is that they may not be paid to play.

Bilas and Luck have similar backgrounds in college sports—both were college athletes and both hold high-profile positions in the sports industry.

Bilas is an analyst and courtside commentator for College GameDay, as well as a regular contributor to SportsCenter,, and ESPNEWS. Bilas was a student-athlete at Duke University, where he played basketball for the Blue Devils. After playing basketball professionally in Europe, Bilas returned to Duke to serve as an assistant coach under Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski while attending law school.

Luck has served as the executive vice president of regulatory affairs for the NCAA since January 2015. He previously worked as director of athletics and associate vice president for West Virginia University (WVU). In college, Luck played football for WVU. He went on to play professionally in the NFL for the Houston Oilers before earning his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. Luck eventually made his way to NFL Europe, where he served as general manager and vice president for the organization, and then president.

FIRE announced at the start of the academic year that it will host four debates at colleges across the country during the 2015–16 academic year. FIRE Debates aim to promote critical thinking and free inquiry on campus. Two of the FIRE Debates will be co-sponsored by Intelligence Squared U.S., one of the nation’s most prestigious debate organizations.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at


Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Recent Articles

FIRE’s award-winning Newsdesk covers the free speech news you need to stay informed.