As another exciting NCAA Tournament came to a dramatic close two weeks ago, it seemed clear who the winners and losers were. If you followed the tournament on TV or in the papers, you heard the exciting story of UConn coming from behind to defeat Duke in the Final Four and how the stars of both teams could look forward to bright and wealthy futures in the NBA. But if you look a little closer at March Madness and the politics of the NCAA, you will find a different story with a different set of winners and losers.
The true tale of the “madness” in March is that the winner of the tournament is always the NCAA and the loser is always the student-athlete.
In 2003 the NCAA, which is exempt from taxes, reported total revenue of $422,233,000. Of that revenue, $370,000,000 came from television contracts alone. Yet despite these huge profits, collegiate athletics operate on the assumption of amateurism. Student-athletes are not allowed to benefit from the money that their competitions generate. College sports have become big business, with student-athletes being exploited for their skills and then discarded.
Many Division I athletes realize the current injustices of the system. In a New York Times op-ed piece published Aug. 1, 2003, University of Colorado wide receiver and Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom said, “[The NCAA] prohibits us from having sponsors or appearing in advertisements, even if the products have no relation to the intercollegiate sports we play.” Bloom was forced to give up the endorsements he earned as an Olympian — endorsements he could have kept under current NCAA rules if he opted not to participate in Colorado’s football program. In other words, Bloom was penalized simply because he choose to be a student-athlete. This would be equivalent to denying a student the profits earned through use of his name because he joined the chess team.
In a more outrageous example, the career of University of Oklahoma third baseman Aaron Adair, a brain cancer survivor, was terminated by the NCAA because of a book he wrote about his recovery from cancer. Adair’s compliance officer felt there was sufficient reason to expel him from the game because his name was attached to a “corporate product.”
Defenders of the current system have argued that athletic scholarships should be considered fair compensation for student-athletes. This argument is flawed because competitors in high profile Division I sports like football and basketball are increasingly unable to receive an education.ÊThough the NCAA restricts the time athletes must spend on their sport to 20 hours a week, the “flagrant violation” of this rule, according to the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, is “openly acknowledged.” While on paper, practices and other activities may appear to be limited to 20 hours a week, any athlete playing a big time sport can tell you that this is not the case. “Optional” practices, meetings, and work-out sessions make the 20-hour mark a running joke. Operating under such heavy time constraints, many student-athletes in Division I schools find it difficult to compete academically with their peers.
As one academic official at a Division IA institution remarked, “We have not in the past had the same expectations of athletes in academics and have not held them to a high standard in the classroom.” A degree earned by a student-athlete at a Division I school may not be worth the scholarship money that allowed him to earn it.
To make matters worse, most student-athletes in the revenue-generating sports do not even graduate. According to the Knight Commission, “The most recent NCAA graduation report reveals that forty-eight percent of Division IA football players and thirty-four percent of men’s basketball players at Division IA institutions earned degrees.” When you compare these numbers to the fact that only one percent of men’s basketball players and two percent of football players in the NCAA are drafted into the pros, it is clear that vast majority of the student-athletes are getting screwed.
Driven by dreams of playing in a professional league, most college athletes find that they have wasted four to six years chasing an impossible dream, while lacking the necessary skills that their peers were able to develop in the same time period. It’s a sad and obvious truth that student-athletes are exploited and abused.
Given that one of the goals of the NCAA is to “promote student-athletes and prepare student-athletes for lifetime leadership,” one can only conclude that the NCAA is a corrupt organization that fails to meet these objectives. The real goal of the NCAA is to maximize revenue and this is accomplished at the expense of student-athletes and society as a whole.
So next time you tune in to March Madness or watch your favorite college football team compete in a bowl game, be aware of who the real winners and losers are.
Harry Flaster is a junior in Jonathan Edwards. He is a saberist on the men’s fencing team and a former member of the football team.