The real madness of March basketball

Tournament blatantly exploits student athletes for profit

People always say the certain things in life are death and taxes, but they fail to mention the sporting events that happen every year that people get overly excited about. Like March Madness.

According to Variety, 8.6 million viewers tuned into the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. These numbers spanned across such networks like CBS, TNT and TBS and including streaming platforms. So it’s obvious that March Madness is a little popular, but why?

It’s for the same reason anyone watches sports: for the competition and entertainment. There’s no denying that it’s magical watching a buzzer beater even if you aren’t a sports fan. As soon as the ball goes in and the buzzer sounds, the winning team suddenly goes primal.

The final game of the tournament is the closest thing to being the Super Bowl without it being professional. It’s a sudden death one-game series and we like to watch the buildup to it.

Brackets provide an interactive element to the tournament. Filling out a tournament bracket, figuring out who’s going to win and lose, is a fun and innocent way of gambling for basketball newbies. However, some take their tournament gambling very seriously. According to the American Gambling Association, nearly $10 billion will be bet on March Madness, mostly illegal or off the books.

Gambling is just part of the financial aspect to the tournament. With over 60 games being televised or streamed, there’s countless advertising possibilities for big corporations. Getting an ad in the championship game is similar to getting one in the Super Bowl as far as reach goes. According to Nielsen, 23 million people watched the 2017 championship game.

This is where the downfall of March Madness is. Gamblers will make billions of dollars and advertisers will also make lump sums, but what about the student athletes who are taking part in these games? Per NCAA rules, student athletes aren’t allowed to make money for their play.

Of course, many of the athletes on teams in the tournament have received a full ride scholarship to their institution and that may be enough of an exchange. Especially if they’re doing something they’re passionate about. They always say you should find a career you’re so passionate about, you would do it for free. But is it really an equal exchange? Maybe.

Much of the revenue made from March Madness and other collegiate sports by the NCAA goes back to student athletes in a way. According to the NCAA, it awards $2.9 billion annually in scholarships to student athletes. The NCAA generates $995.9 million in revenue every year. Other revenue goes back into academic institutions within the NCAA and according to ProPublica, $300 million is pocketed by the organization. The NCAA states that student athletes are at the heart of its mission. How wholesome, right?

The missing part here is the kind of money that goes to the people who coach these student athletes who make nothing. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski earns $8.98 million a year. Some of these coaches have the ability to earn bonuses if they reach certain milestones such as a conference title or an NCAA championship win. There’s something that rubs me the wrong way about a coach being paid as much as some are while their players are putting in 110 percent a week on top of a busy class load.

The sad truth is that it’s not going to change. It’s a blatant issue that the majority will turn a blind eye to because it’s become so commonplace. Paying college athletes will always be a contentious issue. Players on the Northwestern football team attempted to unionize and it failed.

March Madness will continue to garner more and more attention every year, raking in the dough for all parties involved except the actual participants.

Gabe Hewitt

Gabe is a junior mass media student at MSU. He's usually up for anything. You can find him on Twitter (@gabehewitt) or you can email him at gabriel.hewitt@mnsu.edu.

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