March madness indeed!



I just read that University of Florida coach Billy Donovan, as a result of taking his team to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tourney we know as March Madness, got a contract extension and a large raise. The university is paying him in real cash, not in hamburgers or tattoos or trips on the company’s private jet or promises to help him secure his Ph. D, but $3.6 million in racks and racks of stacks.

There is money in them there balls: CBS’s and Turner Broadcasting’s 14-year $10.8 billion contract, NCAA president (plantation director/slave driver) Matt Emmert’s $2 million salary, top NCAA officers’ six-figures salaries, and the new NCAA headquarters is $35 million. Last year’s winning coach Rick Pitino’s salary is $42 million through 2022. His athletic director said of his salary, and I quote, “In a lot of ways I would look at him and say he’s underpaid.”

Lawd have mercy! If Pitino is underpaid, what can you say about the poor athletes? Bill Maher hit it on the head when he said earlier this week, “March Madness is a stirring reminder of what this country was founded on: making tons of money off the labor of unpaid Black people.”

I understand that many folks feel like the athletes are paid with college scholarships, but some folks also believe in the Easter Bunny. Saying an athlete is overpaid is like saying that an unpaid internship — in which you work your butt off like everyone else, only you go home without a check — is really fair because after all, you get to add the internship to your résumé and apply the experience to securing a “real” job, which will actually pay you.

And the athletes are workers; they have a job. Anyone who thinks the athlete is simply a student-athlete is kidding themselves, or downright hating. Somebody once pointed out to me that this was all fair because the athletes got to eat all they wanted. I’m not sure they got to eat anything they wanted, and just recently on ESPN a more popular former NCAA student-athlete said that he and teammates were really hungry after a game and the coach went and bought them tacos and was sweating it because it may have been against the rules.

Just check out the facts. Athletes spend hours upon hours perfecting their craft. Ask any athlete at a Division I school and they will tell you that it does indeed feel like a job. They will also tell you that if they have to miss class and/or classwork to fulfill an athletic obligation; they miss class. Some of the athletes advancing in the tournament will actually miss class — so much for a real college education as compensation.

And let’s not forget that a little over of half student-athletes actually get this cherished degree. Black graduation rates still hover around 20 to 30 percent depending on the latest stats. Oh, and by the way, scholarships are not four-year scholarships; they are given year to year, so one can be effectively cut, or the slicker coaches ease their conscious by running off players they no longer need or want.

Yes, many squeeze out a degree, but it’s one obtained under great stress and physical strain. Trying to meet both their academic and athletic obligation puts pressure even on the best organized young person.

And there are lies inherent in the idea that “Well at least college prepares you for the pros.” Not quite true. Only about one percent of college basketball players make the pros. And college didn’t necessarily prepare them, bad coaching may have spoiled a few players’ opportunity. And never forget the game is built around the team, not the individual player. Ultimately the coach decides to do what’s best for him and his bottom line and the “team” (no I in team).

But the other thing that we shouldn’t overlook is the exploitation of the Black community, as Dave Zirin, the radical sports columnist for The Nation magazine puts it, “the population of the United States that is most desperate for an escape out of poverty [from my point of view African Americans] is the population that has gotten the rawest possible deal from the NCAA, which is actively benefiting from this state of affairs.”

A lawsuit was filed by former college athletes calling out this great hypocrisy. They are making the argument that in a free-market system their compensation was illegally capped at a scholarship. Part of the lawsuit reads, “As a result of these illegal restrictions, market forces have been shoved aside and substantial damages have been inflicted upon a host of college athletes whose services have yielded riches only for others. This class action is necessary to end the NCAA’s unlawful cartel, which is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of antitrust law.”

Enough said! It’s about time the jocks fight back. We shall overcome.


Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to