It’s that time of year again.
That time when people go absolutely bonkers over a bunch of lines on a piece of paper that they’ll forget about once April comes.
Yep, March Madness.
I was never a huge college basketball fan growing up, and that didn’t change once I got into college. I mean, it’s one of those things that I can understand other people enjoying, but I just don’t see much in it. And the obsession with brackets; call me old-fashioned, but when I think of brackets, the first thing that comes to mind is dental surgery. It’s all anyone talks about this time of year, and the chances of being even remotely close are quite slim, even if you buy a hundred brackets from ESPN.com.
And of course, one of the perennial hot-button issues regarding college athletic programs waits until this time of year to rear its ugly head.
You guessed it, I’m talking about salaries for college basketball players.
John Oliver did a piece on it last week, and while I agree with his viewpoints, coming from an American college background and seeing the direct effects of the economy on the situation at large, I think that something substantial needs to happen to finally put this problem to bed.
Before we start talking about salaries for college athletes, let’s look at who really benefits from NCAA and March Madness. First, a small circle of executives. Second, a slightly larger circle of merchandisers. Third, a slightly larger circle of coaches of winning teams. Fourth, a slightly larger circle of coaches of lesser teams. And if there’s any money left over, the schools.
Does this seem like a pyramid scheme to you? Because that is what it feels like to me. Honestly. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus said it best in their phenomenal book, Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting our Money and Failing our Kids – And What We Can Do About It (2010): however many teams there are, there can only be one winner. Everyone else is a loser, in more ways than one. Once a team is out, the buck stops there; merchandise is tossed into the furnace, the advertising offers disappear, and the coaches’ checks are written and distributed. Now, we’re not only hurting ourselves, but we’re hurting underpaid apparel factory workers in China who have to scrap their entire stock of Purdue University Final Four sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hoodies when the Boilermakers get knocked out in an Elite Eight upset. For the coaches, life isn’t so bad; they get to peace out with a sweet check and take a cruise to the Bahamas or whatever basketball coaches do the rest of the year. But the players themselves do struggle, and some of them sustain injuries that not only end their careers, but relieve them of their scholarships and possibly leave them with lifelong conditions.
I could really go on and on and on about this, but I guess what I’m getting at can be summed up in a few points:
1. Coaches’ salaries need to be cut. I’m probably preaching to the choir, but did you know that in the majority of states, the highest-paid private employee is a university coach? That’s pretty disheartening for someone whose work is as seasonal as a Macy’s holiday gift-wrapper. Or if not their salaries, then ban them from allowing to benefit from corporate branding and advertising.
2. People just need to calm down about all this. If the media didn’t make such a fuss over March Madness, people would calm down considerably. The closest sporting event that I can think of that is on this scale while remaining amateur is the Summer Olympics, which happens only every four years. Give colleges a break; they’re under enough pressure from people like Scott Walker as it is.
And finally, the million-dollar question: should college athletes get paid?
My opinion is…it depends. I don’t think that college athletes should get a salary just for being on the team. I do think, however, that they should be allowed to benefit in a similar fashion to their coaches, and be allowed access to the same resources and endorsements from companies like Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, Nike, and all the rest, based on their merit, talent, and sportsmanship. I think that regardless of skill level or playing time, they all deserve to have health insurance covered by their university, regardless of how light or severe the injury; without them, there would be no team and no income for anyone, at all, period. (I mean, come on. Could you imagine people paying just to watch a bunch of older white men to stand around in headsets looking constipated?) I don’t think that they should be penalized for being recognized for their skills and talents; it’s what got them there in the first place. And finally, I think that the NCAA needs to crack down on the intensity of their program, both on and off the court. Coaches should be monitored more carefully to see that they are not over-exerting their players in practice/training to the point of exhaustion or physical/mental illness, and in games, rough play should be taken more seriously; after all, if you’re going to call them amateurs, don’t expect them to play like pros. Probably less than five percent of them will ascend to that level anyway, and though it’s nice to dream, I would imagine that most college athletes want to do something else with their lives than turn pro, even if it’s something as simple as living in a comfortable home, or getting married and having children, or having a less dangerous, better-paying job.
As for me, I’ll be casually following Wisconsin, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
Oh, who am I kidding, they’re a #1 seed and up against Coastal Carolina, so beat ’em, Badgers.