March Madness: The Madness of Not Paying College Basketball Players by Christopher Becker

March Madness: The Madness of Not Paying College Basketball Players

By

Christopher Becker

            Tournament time is upon us. Last week, the yearly ritual for many of filling out brackets gave way to well-played, thrilling games and buzzer beaters. Millions are captivated by the high octane drama involved in upsets and busted brackets. The Madness of March often shadows some of the shortcomings of the game. Whether it be pace of play, lack of scoring, officiating or any number of other things about the progression of the game on the court, time and criticism apparently stand still while we all begin our annual month long infatuation with the sport.  Although this is a time for celebrating the game in general as well as the passion of the athletes and students, it is when the most focus is on the game that the biggest opportunity for correcting some of its ills presents itself. This opportunity should be seized to continue the all important discussion of compensating athletes.

In 2010, Turner Broadcasting purchased the rights to broadcast the Tournament and agreed to participate in certain marketing activities with the National Collegiate Athletic Association.[1] This deal is set to run 14 years from 2011-2024.[2] For the rights to broadcast the games, Turner Broadcasting paid an astounding $10.8 Billion Dollars.[3] Yes, Billion with a “B.” 68 teams are selected for the tournament, and every single game is available to watch on television.[4] Not only is this broadcasting agreement incredibly lucrative for the NCAA,[5] there is also over a billion dollars in advertising revenue generated by the tournament.[6] This advertising revenue is likely to continue or even increase as a result of the Tournament’s superb television ratings.[7]

With record setting ratings and incredible advertising revenue being produced, both parties are surely enjoying the fruits of their agreement. However, those who contribute most to the product, the players themselves, directly receive none of the revenue generated from the tournament.[8] There are those that argue players should not be paid.[9] Not so coincidentally, this would leave more revenue for all parties profiting from inter-collegiate athletics to share. For the NCAA, it would be awfully unfortunate if their $71 million dollar “surplus” (let’s be careful and not call it profit because of course the NCAA is a non-profit organization) were eroded in any way.[10] The justifications offered for not paying athletes range from the fact that it would somehow diminish the excitement surrounding the events,[11] to schools invest in athletes with the amount of money they spend per athlete,[12] to the value of their education is sufficient compensation.[13] These arguments deserve little credence when one simply acknowledges the popularity of professional sports, the profitable return the schools and NCAA receive from the money spent on student athletes, and in some instances, such as at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the work that goes into the degree and the skills it really confers as a result of the desire of schools to guarantee players are eligible to play.[14]

The fact that players do not receive any of the revenue directly should be especially unnerving when one considers the plight of the athlete more closely. For instance, the University of Connecticut Huskies made a remarkable championship run which saw them win the necessary six games to be crowned tournament champions. Unfortunately, this was not the only story from the team’s season. Star guard Shabazz Napier had this to say in reference to the need for athletes to be compensated, “we have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food.”[15] There are many other examples of athletes expressing similar sentiments. Specifically, Jalen Rose has been outspoken about his struggles during his time playing basketball at the University of Michigan.[16] Although the NCAA has changed some of its rules concerning food[17], the fact of the matter is that athletes still have a multitude of other expenses to worry about and should be compensated in some way in light of the revenue produced off their activities.

Although in the interest of time the matter cannot be explored in greater detail, the unconvincing reasons given for not paying student athletes, the struggles they face even with academic scholarships, and the amount of revenue their activities produce serve as several important reasons that the NCAA should pay College Basketball players. This discussion needs to be continued and furthered as we enjoy the rest of this year’s Tournament.

[1] Press Release, National Collegiate Athletic Association, CBS Sports, Turner Broadcasting, NCAA Reach 14 Year Agreement (Apr. 22, 2010) http://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/2010-04-21/cbs-sports-turner-broadcasting-ncaa-reach-14-year-agreement.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Bruce Horovitz, March Madness Ad Haul Spirals Higher than Any Sport, USA TODAY (Mar. 17, 2013, 5:33 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/03/17/march-madness-ad-revenue-super-bowl-advertisers/1991379/.

[7] Scott Phillips, More Record TV Ratings for the 2015 NCAA Tournament, NBC SPORTS (Mar. 22, 2015, 1:00 PM), http://collegebasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2015/03/22/more-record-tv-ratings-for-the-2015-ncaa-tournament/.

[8] Matthew Futterman, Should Athletes Get a Piece of the NCAA Tournament Revenue?: Whether to Pay College Athletes Remains One of the Most Explosive Issues in Sports, WALL ST. J. (Mar. 17, 2015, 1:06 PM), http://www.wsj.com/articles/should-athletes-get-a-piece-of-the-ncaa-tournament-revenue-1426610424.

[9] Darren Rovell, NCAA Holds Firm: No Pay for Play, ESPN (Mar. 26, 2015, 5:30 PM), http://espn.go.com/college-sports/story/_/id/10119750/ncaa-president-mark-emmert-insists-pay-play-model-coming.

[10] Steve Berkowitz, NCAA Had Record $71 Million Surplus in Fiscal 2012, USA Today (May 2, 2013, 8:58 AM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2013/05/02/ncaa-financial-statement-surplus/2128431/.

[11] Jeff Morganteen, Should Student Athletes Be Paid? No, Says NCAA President, NBC NEWS, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/careers/should-student-athletes-be-paid-no-says-ncaa-president-n62671 (last visited Mar. 26, 2015).

[12] Rovell, supra note 9.

[13] Jeffrey Dorfman, Pay College Athletes? They’re Already Paid Up To $125,000 Per Year, FORBES (Aug. 29, 2013, 8:00 AM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2013/08/29/pay-college-athletes-theyre-already-paid-up-to-125000year/.

[14] For more information on the University of North Carolina Scandal see Dennis Dodd, North Carolina Academic Case Puts NCAA and its ‘Mission’ on Trial, CBSSPORTS.COM (Mar. 18, 2015, 11:55 AM), http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/eye-on-college-basketball/25112560/north-carolina-academic-case-puts-ncaa-and-its-mission-on-trial.

[15] Shabazz Napier: “Some nights I go to bed starving,” YOUTUBE, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFdRk2DYolM (last visited Mar. 26, 2015) (Warning: YouTube comments may contain graphic or offensive language).

[16] Aaron McMann, Jalen Rose Proposes a $2,500 a Semester Stipend for College Athletes, USA Today (Sept. 25, 2013, 5:50 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2013/09/25/jalen-rose-former-nba-player-proposes-semester-stipend-for-college-athletes/2871749/.

[17] Michelle Brutlag Hosick, Council Approves Meals, Other Student-Athlete Well-Being Rules, http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/news/council-approves-meals-other-student-athlete-well-being-rules (last visited Mar. 26 2015).

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