Two words that get a whole lot of sports fans very excited. Rightfully so since March Madness is the unofficial title given to the biggest basketball tournament in sports, the NCAA Championship for college basketball, pitting the best 64 teams from across the country against each other in a dwindling field to get to the Final Four and finally the one survivor.
For sports fans March Madness is about rivalries, Cinderella teams, great comebacks, last second shots, cheerleaders, bands and “One Shining Moment.” For the schools involved, the venues, and the television network televising the game, it is about the almighty dollar. March Madness generates many millions of dollars for almost everyone involved.
In 2010 the NCAA signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting, paid over the 14-year term. The deal was extended in April 2016 for a combined total rights fee of $8.8 billion that will keep the tournament on the networks until 2032.
According to published reports, March Madness will generate for the NCAA somewhere around $900 million in revenue from the tournament, representing about 90% of its annual revenue. Most of that goes to the governing body but the schools, and their conferences, benefit from being in the tournament as well. Each of those team’s conferences will get a piece of a $220 million pot of money. For each game a team plays, its conference gets a payout, spread over six years. For playing one game the team’s conference gets roughly $1.7 million. If a team makes it all the way to the final game, it can earn as many as five units, totaling $8.3 million. Conferences generally divide the pot amongst all its member schools.
But the schools also benefit greatly from the exposure and in their ability to further recruit the best high school athletes from around the country. The value in that exposure from a prolonged run to the Elite Eight or The Final Four is immeasurable.
So a lot of money is at stake and a lot of money is spread around. The only people not benefiting from all this money are the athletes themselves, who aren’t allowed to receive a penny, at least legally, from all the millions they generate for their conferences, schools and the networks. Not one penny.
Billions being made due to the talent of these athletes and the excitement they generate, but they get nothing. Well some argue they do get something quite valuable, scholarships and a free college education. Granted that is true. But it is also true that paying for room and board, books and tuition does not mean these young athletes don’t have other needs for money to live normal lives, and to take care of or help with families back home. Even college kids who are non-athletes with academic scholarships and financial aid are allowed to earn money if they need to. Athletes can’t get a free burger or a ride across campus without intense regulations and scrutiny to determine if there was financial gain. This while they watch merchandise being sold, stadiums and gyms being filled and built, coaches getting multi-million dollar contracts and games being broadcast on TV.
Right now, the NCAA and the FBI are involved in a major basketball scandal that has already ensnared many and could bring down many more, due to agents and coaches being caught in schemes to funnel money to players or their families in exchange for getting them to go to certain schools or to sign with certain agents once they turned pro. It is one of the biggest scandals to rock college sports in years.
The argument is made that none of this would be happening if athletes were openly and legally allowed to receive money in the first place. It would remove the incentive for all this under the table dealings that most say is way more common than the NCAA wants to admit. And even if athletes were limited in how they got paid, or how much they were allowed to get paid, it certainly makes sense that they should at least be able to share somehow in the all the money swirling around them due to their natural abilities and for all that they bring to the schools and their conferences.
Michel Wilbon may had summarized the situation best in a piece he wrote for ESPN.com:
“The best college athletes in the two revenue-producing sports [football and basketball] have always been worth much more than tuition, room, board and books. The best football and basketball players in the Big Ten have produced to the degree that a television network has become the model for every conference in America, a network worth at least tens of millions of dollars to the member institutions. Yet, no player can benefit from that work. The players have become employees of the universities and conferences as much as students — employees with no compensation, which not only violates common decency but perhaps even the law.”
Bring on March Madness but lets end the madness of schools, conferences, television, and vendors, making millions off young players, many of whom aren’t guaranteed professional careers or a timeline for how long their health will allow them to play.