One of the most exciting and popular sporting events in America is the NCAA ("March Madness") Basketball Tournament. In three short weeks, the original 64 teams are whittled down to the "Final Four" and these teams compete over three days to determine the national champion. The "lose or go home" format results in incredible, almost desperate play, and the results are often electrifying. But could there be a down side to all this unfettered glory? Well, leave it to (pain in the ass) Paul to spoil this spectacular, sweaty parade....
This year, CBS is paying $420,000,000 for exclusive coverage of the (three-week) NCAA Basketball Tournament. But the players don't get a dime of this stunning loot. Zip. Zero. Huh?! Could this truly be?! CBS is willing to pay almost half a billion dollars to broadcast these elite athletes but the athletes get none of the cash? Why?
Well, it's explained (by those in power) that these are "amateur athletes" and that's that. We are also (in the same breath) reminded that the athletes are indeed paid in the form of college scholarships, often worth tens of thousands of dollars a year. But if they are amateurs who are already being paid (i.e. "not amateurs"), why can't the 800-900 athletes competing in this monstrously-lucrative tournament (99% of whom will never make it to the pros) also share in the enormous profits that they themselves create? That's when the tepid explanations from the "experts" usually dry up, it seems.
Beloved coach Mike Krzyzewski (of Duke University) has a $6.6 million dollar contract with Nike and, in exchange, forces his players (surprise, none of them ever dissent) to wear Nike apparel and shoes. His players provide the speedy "billboards" for Nike's products and the beloved coach sits on the sidelines and hauls in millions. Um, that's bullshit. Plenty of other college coaches enjoy similar contracts with other athletic companies. The players never get a nickel, while exclusively offering the valuable service! Can someone please give me another example (anywhere on earth) where an individual brings in hundreds of thousands dollars yearly through his/her OWN efforts but receives no compensation whatsoever? Hell, even the Indonesian sweatshop workers who toil in Nike factories (true!) receive a bit of pay!
But those who support the present system (often those who also profit from it) claim, "Well, these universities provide the valuable opportunity for players to 'showcase' their talents and impress the NBA, where they can go on and make millions of dollars." Absolutely true, but this does not mean the system is fair. For example, let's say you have a successful job interview. The boss-man who hires you then explains you will be paid nothing while you remain with them but, after four years, you will be much more marketable and can earn a very tidy wage elsewhere. How long would it take you to stop laughing in his face? But if ALL companies decided to take this approach, you really wouldn't have a choice but to work for nothing for a few years. It is patently unfair but the alternative is worse. That's college sports for ya.' Modern day slavery with the tantalizing (tiny) possibility of eventual marketability.
Colleges insist that these are "student athletes," as a way of dismissing the notion that they should be paid. But anyone who's attended a major university in America knows full well that the athletes are encouraged to take special (easy) classes in order to receive passing grades and are pressured to dedicate countless hours each day to practice. "Impressive graduation rates" are often mentioned when discussing certain programs (like Penn State) but even a mentally retarded lad could graduate from most of these institutions! Years ago an NFL player (Dexter Manley) confessed that he could not read or write, even though he graduated from Oklahoma State University! As coaches are under enormous pressure to succeed (or get fired) they are of course also under extreme pressure to dissuade activities (such as studying) that take players away from the practice field. Remarkably, some special student-athletes heroically still manage to do well in school. Kudos to them. They are in the vast minority.
The elite players (usually the ones competing in "March Madness") are specifically recruited to win games but, more importantly, to bring millions of dollars to the university (and the NCAA in general). And the NBA (surprise, surprise!) now has a rule that forces athletes to play one year of college ball before attempting to play in their league. Hmmm, an 18-year-old adult can fight and die in an unprovoked war but may no longer offer his job skills on the open market? The NBA and college basketball insist that an 18-year-old is too "immature" for the NBA but many of the best players in the league came straight out of high school (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady)! The argument is, of course, bullshit and it's all designed to further stuff the pockets of the wealthy.
In conclusion, college sports (especially football!) is nothing more than an agreement by those in power to exclude ALL of its most vital workers from sharing in the stunning wealth they alone create. The only people who have the power to render this colossal "business" bankrupt (the players) are also the only ones who are not paid. And God forbid they try to unionize. Let me assure you, they will be crushed as swiftly and surely as those noble souls who occasionally try to stand up to Wal-Mart or McDonald's!
After 4-5 years of college, where they were dissuaded from preparing themselves for the real world, a few dozen lucky players "graduate" to NBA riches. The remaining 99% are tossed to the curb, only to be replaced a few months later by other youngsters (usually poor and academically unprepared) who naively consider themselves lucky to be there. They're not.
-Paul C. Rosa