I was an unpaid college athlete (well, aside from getting 2 credit hours, boxed lunches and some running stuff). In my case, this seems fine. After all, I did not generate any revenue for my college (watching cross country and track was free). However, some athletes (most notably football and basketball players at the top sports schools) do generate massive revenues for their schools. These revenues enable obscenely high salaries for coaches, the construction of massive stadiums, and so on. There is a massive gravy train of money and the players only see a minute fraction of this in terms of scholarships and some perks.
One stock argument against paying college athletes is that they are compensated by their scholarships. In some cases, this compensation is adequate. However, in many cases the scholarship payout is minuscule compared to what the player actually brings in. After all, the top sports schools have revenue streams that rival those of the professionals and, as is well know, the pros are very well paid indeed. As such, this argument has merit only in limited cases, such as for schools whose sports revenue is on par with what is paid out in scholarships.
Another stock argument is that the college athlete is supposed to be a noble amateur, unsullied by the stain of money. I do actually value this sentiment. After all, I was (and am) an amateur athlete who competes for the sake of the competition and to be better in my sport. I am not in it for the money (obviously enough). However, this notion is laughable when it comes to the big money sports. After all, the universities are quite willing to sully themselves with piles of cash and business deals with sponsors that come from their top sports. One suspects that this is a not so noble lie told to the players and fans so that certain folks can keep all the money. In any case, these sports are sullied with money and various other scandals to the degree that the noble amateur is a complete fiction in the cases of the top schools. The high end college teams are, in fact, professional in all respects other than actually having paid players.
This is not to say that there are not noble athletes at the top sports schools who play for the sake of the sport . There are. They are, however, being shamelessly exploited by the universities. Also, there are clearly professional athletes who are noble athletes-it is, obviously, possible to get paid and remain that noble athlete. An unpaid person is not thus made noble-just poor. Naturally, a player who accepts bribes to throw games would not be noble-but that is another matter. As such, the noble amateur story is a not so noble lie.
My view is that universities should drop the pretense and pay the athletes based on what they bring in for the school. Otherwise they are shamelessly exploiting these athletes and enabling others to profit massively on the work of others. That is, obviously enough, unfair.