Nearly $12 billion was made this year through March Madness office pools ($3 billion), $4 billion in legal betting and $4 billion in illegal betting. The NCAA makes millions from television rights with CBS and Turner. This year’s Final Four men’s coaches combined make over $18 million in salaries and bonuses.
Everybody but the players got paid.
“It’s not simply about a check or compensation, but it also about long-term insurance and short-term health care. It’s about medical coverage. It’s about workplace treatment,” explains Ellen Staurowsky, who once wrote that “the multibillion-dollar college-sport industry” uses players, many of whom are Blacks and other people of color, as “an unrecognized labor force.”
March Madness, as a result, serves as an annual part of the NCAA’s “strategic execution of a propaganda campaign” that many sports media shamelessly promote.
“I wonder at times is it brainwashing or thought control,” said Staurowsky in a recent MSR phone interview. “It’s a testament to the power of the mythology — so many viewers have the romantic notion about what is actually going on with the players that they see on screen and the conditions in which the players work on a weekly basis. The NCAA [isn’t] telling us that these athletes are working 40 to 60 hours per week — 80 percent of all undergraduates hold down some kind of job [and] receive a paycheck.”
While “regular” college students often work during the school year whether on scholarship or not, scholarship players can’t: Rather, these players “work” on one-year, renewable scholarships that the coaches, not the schools, make the renewals.
This type of “exploitation” has existed since the 1930s when college players first began challenging their schools for fair compensation, threatened or held “work stoppages” and pushed for long-term medical care when they get injured while playing. The NCAA have fought long and hard against this — they coined the “student-athlete” term in response to a football player widow’s workers’ compensation lawsuit after her late husband died while playing.
Staurowsky is a Drexel University sports management professor and the co-founder of College Athletes Rights and Empowerment Faculty Coalition (CARE-FC). Their four-point agenda includes developing relationships with existing player associations and unions, educating legislators and public policymakers, creating awareness on the “disproportionate negative impact” college sport has on college athletes, especially those of color, and opposing efforts against real and meaningful college sport reforms.
Big Ten Associate Commissioner Jennifer Heppel last month told the MSR that she supports “reprioritizing of [financial] resources,” which include her conference’s support of multi-year scholarships but not paying players.
“The system has the ability to spend and distribute [money] freely as it wishes to,” states Staurowsky.
The oft-conventional argument is that since players choose to play, they get what they signed for. Please go to CARE-FC’s website, or go to On Demand and watch HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel — last month’s episode was on college athletes injured while playing but now must pay for their medical bills.
CARE-FC is making some traction on an issue that isn’t going away any time soon, reports Staurowsky: “We started off with two signatories and within two weeks grew to 55 faculty members from across the country. We are in dialogue with players and player groups because we very much want to have a partnership between players and faculty members.
“I think we are going to see more and more people starting to see what’s actually at stake here,” concludes the professor on the need for “a fundamental change” in college sport. “I think the industry need to be called out on that.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.