This time of year, so-called “bracketologists” and other sports soothsayers babble endlessly about the teams and players currently in contention as March Madness begins. But many other issues equally important to the sport rarely if ever get discussed in sports media. Another View’s “unconventional” coverage this month will leave the usual chatter to others and instead explore “The Shadow Side of March Madness.”
This week: a movement to curtail the exploitation of college student-athletes.
The NCAA for three weeks each March unleashes its propaganda machine, vainly extolling how much they care about student-athletes. One would bet the following numbers won’t be included in such embellishments:
Nearly 11,000 missed classes and 748 missed midterms or finals for college basketball players and team student-managers were lost during one week of March Madness, according to Vocativ.com. This is not brought to the attention of the estimated 81 million persons who are expected to watch the NCAAs on smartphones and tablets along with televisions, either at home, sports bars and restaurants, nor the 60 million-plus persons who filled out tourney brackets.
A recent WalletHub report points out that $205 million are expected to be distributed to the Division I conferences by the NCAA’s basketball fund. And the players — the stars of the three-week win-or-go-home tournament — don’t get a single dime.
College sport is an “exploitative system,” reiterates Drexel University Sport Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky. Her department is hosting in Philadelphia the College Athletes’ Rights & Empowerment (CARE) Conference, “Visioning a New Paradigm of College Sport,” on March 24-26.
“While the men’s regional will be playing, we will be having a discussion about college athletes’ rights in the 21st century here in another part of town,” explains Staurowsky.
The professor notes that “it’s not just media but many other corporations” who have serious vested interests in seeing college sport, like a Billy Joel song, stay the way it is. “I think [the media] is a co-conspirator of this multi-million-dollar industry. It has such a shared conflict of interest with the college sport establishment that profits and benefits mightily from the labor of the athletes, primarily in the sport of football and basketball, who are primarily young men of color,” says Staurowsky.
Gambling, legal and illegal, generates as much as $9 billion just off NCAA basketball in March, states the professor and longtime advocate for change. “We have whole 24/7 networks that are built literally on these games. We have major corporations that are selling their products and making a profit off the platforms that are created by college sport. There are so many different entities who have their hand in the till that it should be much more obvious to everyone what is going on.”
College and university athletic administrations “act like management,” says Staurowsky. “The most hostile work environment is the athletic departments [for] athletic teams in colleges and universities. We have large majorities of African American players on all of these teams, and we know that they are not receiving appropriate education [or] appropriate health care… I can go on and on with that list.”
Among the conference’s featured “heavy hitting” speakers and presenters will be Staurowsky, who has published several studies and papers on why college players should be paid; retired basketball player Ed O’Bannon, the lead plaintiff in O’Bannon v. NCAA, the case on companies making money on athletes’ likeness without compensating them; National College Players Association Founder and Executive Director Ramogi Huma; University of California-Berkeley sociology Professor Emeritus Harry E
dwards; and Billy Hawkins, a University of Georgia kinesiology professor whose research focus is on racial issues in the context of sport and physical activity, among others.
Staurowsky hopes the CARE conference will lead to more ongoing discussions, “hopefully educating folk in a way that will help them understand what the issues are, but also supporting the athletes in advocacy that will lead to more empowerment to level the playing field for athletes and player management,” she says.
Next week: What if a Final Four was held and the players didn’t show? Our interview with Dr. Harry Edwards will explore this idea.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.