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: Is it time for college basketball players to start something?
Consider this: What if the April 4 Men’s Final Four championship game next week, with the whole world watching, suddenly didn’t take place as scheduled? What if the players as a group decided to stay in the locker room, or better yet to not even show up at the Houston arena?
In the labor force, a workers’ shutdown is usually nicknamed a “flu,” as if en masse they called in sick. Why not the same from these players? According to communitytax.com, the average NCAA Division I men’s basketball player is worth over $212,000 but receives zero in salary.
The new Rutgers men’s head basketball coach hired last week has incentives in his contract that include $25,000 per NCAA tournament game if the school makes it, and $100,000 for a Final Four appearance, and $50,000 if named national coach of the year.
The NCAA tournament is now held in corporate-named mega-arenas in major cities. It is scheduled to be held in the not-yet-open but already-named-for-a-bank Vikings stadium on Chicago Avenue downtown in 2019. The average fan can’t afford to attend — the average single-game ticket price is $344, and for all Final Four sessions this year the price runs between $437 and $5,700.
Since these days most of the unsalaried players worth on average $212,000 are Black, doesn’t this sound like antebellum accounting, especially since they are providing in essence “free labor”? This is nothing but a “plantation concept,” a term first coined in the 1960s by noted sociologist Harry Edwards, who in a recent MSR phone interview predicted that a player walkout is in the offing.
“I think that day is coming,’ Edwards said. “Will it be this generation this year or next year or the year after? I don’t know.” These players “are making billionaires out of the institution of collegiate basketball, a billion-dollar industry, and [they] get nothing,” continued Edwards. “At some point, I think that we are going to see increasing pressure from athletes to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough.’”
“These athletes have given their time and all this energy to this game that is going to generate all this revenue that they may never ever see,” added University of Georgia Kinesiology Professor Billy Hawkins, who wrote The New Plantation: Black Athletes and College Athletics. “I definitely think that a student-athlete type of activism” is needed.
Edwards’ legendary work in advocating for real change and equity in sport inspired him, noted Hawkins, whose teaching and research areas include racial issues and the experiences of Black male athletes in intercollegiate athletics.
Stated Edwards, “The potential for change is so great. At some point, you’re going to have two or three teams of athletes who are going to be in the Final Four, and when the whistle blows…and the television cameras are running, they are going to say, ‘We’re not leaving the locker room until the N-C-2-A and these institutions sit down with our attorneys and say here are the steps it will take in order to adequately compensate the athletes who put all of these monies into everybody’s pockets but their own.’”
If change is to come, it must come radically. What would be more radical than shutting down the game on college basketball’s biggest stage as the nation’s eyes are all focused on it?
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.