March Money Madness

A few hours into the NCAA Tournament and it already proved to be pure madness. For basketball fans all over the world, there is no better television programing than seeing Cinderella teams conquer the perennial sovereignties, and constructing the perfect bracket for a chance to win Warren Buffet’s billion-dollar challenge. For the NCAA, this is when their revenue stream turns into a biblical flood.

In 2010, CBS and Turner Sports reached a 14-year media contract deal worth nearly $11 billion dollars with the NCAA to cover March Madness.

In Vegas, Americans wager an estimated $7 billion on the Tournament every year (the Super Bowl generates $6 billion).

In 2012, television advertisements eclipsed the $1 billion dollar mark. That same year, the NBA, NHL, and MLB playoffs combined came up with a paltry $991 million.

Ticket sales and sponsorships bring in $40 million in revenue for the big tournament. The best part about it? They do not have to pay their employees. And by employees, I mean the student athletes that leave their blood and sweat on the court.

Student Athletes Despite the ludicrous amount of profit it rakes in, the NCAA remains to be a private, non-profit organization – making it a ruthless commercial enterprise. Michael Lewis, the author of The Blind Side and Moneyball argues, “College sports is professional in every aspect but one. They don’t pay the players” The NCAA avoids paying its athletes by labelling them as “student athletes”. This term implies that any and every student that enrolls in a post-secondary institution engages in extra-curricular activities that will enhance their education and experience at the school. With that being said, Andrew Wiggins and Tyler Ennis, both of whom have declared for th

e next NBA Draft, are placed on the same pedestal as their fellow schoolmate who is part of the basket-weaving club. Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA, once debated that its student-athletes are adequately compensated by having “access to the best educational opportunities that we find in the United States”. While this is a fair statement by Emmert, it must be noted that this educational opportunity is dependent on a one-year scholarship.

Three things that every college student needs to balance and sustain are academics, personal life, and finances. For athletes, another dimension needs to be added – daily training and practice. That makes it almost impossible to keep a job since it consumes most of their time, and just like you and me, they cannot rely on mom and pops forever.

So why not take on those endorsement deals and “gifts” from recruiters? Student-athletes could face suspension, have their scholarships revoked, and they could even jeopardize their school and its program.

The NCAA is a ruthless business venture. Even after the world witnessed Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury occur during Louisville’s game against Duke, student-athletes are still fighting for basic healthcare guarantees for injuries incurred while representing their school. Ware got consolatory phone calls and messages from supporters all over the world, including Kobe Bryant and Michelle Obama, but while this may have helped his emotional state, financial woes lingered on. Under NCAA policy, the University of Louisville was not required to extend financial aid to Ware or assist with his medical expenses (after NCAA’s supplemental $90,000 coverage plan for championship events). Fortunately, for Ware, no money was taken out of his and his family’s pocket, and his campaign was red-shirted this year. However, this is not always the case.

The road ahead for student-athletes is one that is full of reformation; student-athletes are attempting to overturn a NCAA rule that prohibits college athletes from profiting from the use of their names and images, and demanding to be recognized as school employees, and therefore be unionized (i.e. Northwestern University’s football team). Albeit a move towards the right direction, these reforms will take time to process and finalize. So, for the meantime, the NCAA will be laughing all the way to the bank while student-athletes continue to work for free.