By Zach McCrite
It’s a wonderful thing… if used properly. The problem with college athletics is that “power” and “properly” are never used in the same sentence.
We’ve lived in this world for quite some time now where the coach (and by extension, the athletic director who hired the coach) at a big conference school gets a ton of the money. Yet, the both of them are only mildly responsible for the product we pay to watch.
They are only mildly responsible for, let’s say, the $8.8 billion — with a “b” — contract that the NCAA made with CBS and Turner Sports for the rights to broadcast all of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games. A lion’s share of that revenue trickles back down to the member institutions.
The ones largely responsible for the entertainment that makes March Madness a multi-billion-dollar industry? You guessed it. The student-athletes, most of whom aren’t old enough to legally have an adult libation.
Instead they are paid in education. They get to leave their university without being buried under a mountain of student loan debt. That’s certainly a blessing. And for a lot of you reading this, that’s a fair deal.
Well, not from where I sit.
Imagine Roy Williams, head coach of the national champion North Carolina Tarheels, has a blue-chip recruit in his office, trying to woo him to come continue to championship legacy in Chapel Hill.
I imagine Williams says something to the effect of, “There’s more to this than just winning titles and getting you to the NBA, son. It’s also about setting you up for life. Basketball won’t be around forever. You’ll get an education and be ready for the real world when it’s time.”
But, if you strip away the pomp and circumstance, I envision a truth serum-infused Roy Williams sounding more like this: “Son, if you come to North Carolina, you’ll be under my control for as long as you want to wear the Carolina Blue, and I truly think you’ve got the talent that will help me make millions of dollars and keep my legacy intact.
“Oh, and you’ll get to go to school for free.”
Look, I’m just using the Tarheels’ coach as an example. After all, according to USA Today, Williams just received a total of $925,000 in bonuses from the University of North Carolina during his run to a national title last month. But this happens all over college basketball. Rick Pitino earned an extra $425,000 in bonuses from the University of Louisville when the Cardinals won the 2013 championship (and another $375,000 from team outfitter Adidas). These bonuses may vary in value, depending on what program the coach oversees, but they are commonplace in the sport.
The coaches have the power.
What else is commonplace? The economic lift that Final Four host cities receive. The Arizona Republic reports that the city of Houston, the host of the Final Four in 2016, “benefitted from $300 million in direct economic impact.”
This is all on the backs of the unpaid, barely of-age labor.
Well, let me back up for a second. I guess the players do get a stipend over and above the benefits of a scholarship – as much as $5,000, according to the Kansas City Star. That’s with one comma.
Let’s call it what it is: “shamateurism.” Stay in our minor-league system for the NBA (the league that is in lockstep with college basketball so much so that they make sure no games are being played concurrently with the national championship game) for anywhere from one to four years. By the way, your coach can leave whenever he wants without penalty. If you do it, you’ll have to sit out a season.
The NCAA has the power.
Consider this: When most of these NCAA (sh)amateurism rules were written, television was barely even a part of societal consciousness. “Television deals” weren’t even a thought. “March Madness” was probably something more associated with St. Patrick’s Day.
And when those rules were written, players still received full scholarships while the schools and conferences for which those players played got next to nothing in terms of television revenue. In other words, the value of a scholarship for a student-athlete was a much bigger piece of the overall pie in the 1950s and 1960s. It was far more fair.
These days, the pockets of the university administrators, coaches, athletic directors and many more are overflowing thanks to the players lacing them up in front of a nightly, nationally-televised audience. Everyone is splitting all of this television money that wasn’t around when these rules were made.
Except the players mainly responsible for creating said revenue. They get a couple grand over with their scholarship, maybe.
Could you imagine the profits of a company going up by the billions and the employees of said company making just about the same amount they made a half century ago?
It would never happen.
I’m sure some of you are reading this experiencing a reaction to the effect of, “Back off! These players are getting something you can’t put a price on.” Fair enough. Why shouldn’t we pay them more?
Or, better yet, let’s start paying the millionaire. College basketball coaches in those priceless college credits instead of in dollars. Sound good?
But this is the construct we, the fans, have built for our own entertainment. And this is also the construct we, the media, have let be built for our own financial gain as well.
I am in a moral conundrum every time I watch a basketball game, get paid to talk about it or fill out a bracket. The same moral conundrum should be felt tenfold by the people who make the millions – with two commas – off of this same barely-paid labor.
And it’s why I wrote this.
Power is being abused.