Has March Madness Truly Gone Mad?
For sports fans all across the country, March can only mean one thing — March Madness. Around this time every year, 64 teams from colleges and universities across the country partake in a frenzy of seemingly non-stop basketball action. The Big Dance, as it’s also known, is a joyous occasion for fans and players alike. Teams from small, undistinguished programs hope to become this year’s Cinderella, earning a magical trip to the Final Four. But there are some who celebrate the occasion for other reasons — namely, the schools make a killing off their student athletes, while the athletes get nothing.
It doesn’t take a sports fan to know that when you have an enterprise as popular as college basketball, where some teams sell out 20,000-seat arenas and draw in tens of millions of television viewers, someone is probably getting super rich. Universities bring in an average of $10 million a year of revenue from their basketball programs, money which is often used to cross-subsidize other academic and institutional programs. So while schools may claim that their athletes (who as amateurs are not permitted to receive financial compensation) are getting paid for their athletic endeavors with a free education, they’re ignoring the extra millions pulled in from licensing, merchandise, ticket sales and TV revenue. It’s all part of a wider attitude in sports, both amateur and professional, that could be characterized as “anti-player.”
College basketball is viewed as a training ground for prospective pros — somewhere the kids can cut their teeth and iron out kinks in their game before heading to the NBA. Most of these young talents have no real desire for the college educations offered to them by universities; their career ambitions lie in professional ball. Regardless of whether or not these aspirations are realized, every athlete has the right to pursue a professional career, and on their own terms.
Of course, many pundits and purported “experts” can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity to earn a college degree, as though a diploma could financially compare to the economics of college sports. It is inaccurate and ignorant to claim that because colleges are giving their athletes the chance to have a degree, they’re rightfully compensating them for their services. Quite simply, most elite student athletes aren’t there for the education.
This week, Ralph Nader said he supported the elimination of all athletic scholarships in college sports. Money has infiltrated the game so much, Nader argued, that athletes exploit the opportunities granted through scholarships for reasons that are financial, not academic. “An entire industry has developed in the youth sports arena — club teams, personal trainers, etc. — to prey on families’ dreams of an athletic scholarship,” he said.
Maybe Nader, and others taking a similar anti-player stance in this debate, should remember that it was the NBA and NCAA who in 2006 required that all players declaring for the NBA draft be at least 19 years of age and one year removed from high school. It essentially banned athletes from being able to jump straight into the pros, and was done so that the next LeBron James or Dwight Howard would be obligated to give a year of their time and marketability to the NCAA.
While even a year of college experience is good for a player’s development, mandating that anyone should basically be forced to go to college before they’re allowed to earn a living doing what they do best is ludicrous. It’s why Brandon Jennings, the 10th pick in 2009 draft, opted to take his talents to the Italian professional league right out of high school, rather than spend a year earning nothing before being allowed to enter the pros.
The kind of attitude implemented by the NBA, the NCAA, and many of the middle-aged white men who comprise a large percentage of the punditry, is akin to modern-day slavery. Basically, they think they know what’s best for these kids, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and could use their talents to better the financial situation they and their families find themselves in. In reality, these people could care less what’s best for the young athletes. They come from a completely different universe, one where the financial security of their own families are nowhere near being at risk.
Why not? Because they’re the same university presidents, athletic directors and TV analysts who profited off the commercialization and commodification of collegiate athletics, while the kids doing the actual work on the court were getting nothing. So if we’re going to allow the status-quo to persist, then let’s at least call this whole affair what it is: an antiquated, socially biased system that can only be described as an economically unfair exchange of goods and services.