NCAA

NCAA Exploits its Players, But Who Doesn't Love Some March Madness Bracketology?

College basketball's tournament is compelling, but ethically compromised.

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The NCAA college basketball championship tournament,

Unpaid labor.
Flickr/Beaverbasketball

oft-referred to as March Madness, kicked off today. Over the next three weeks, 63 games will be played and over 77 million Americans will cost their employers almost $2 billion in lost man-hours as they obsess over their brackets, peak at game coverage, or kibbitz with co-workers about the most recent buzzer-beater. 

In a new column at The Week, I write about the first time I immersed myself in March Madness, in 1990:

Eleventh-seeded Loyola Marymount University (LMU), inspired/haunted by the sudden death of their best player, Hank Gathers, who collapsed on the court during a game a week before the tournament kicked off, valiantly fought their way into the Elite Eight that year. Though their run concluded with a thumping by eventual champ UNLV, the most eternally memorable moment of that tournament took place in the early moments of the first round.

LMU shooting guard Bo Kimble, a natural righty, stepped to the free throw line and took a left-handed foul shot as a tribute to the fallen Gathers, his best friend since high school. I was just a kid when I saw this, but was able to grasp at its profundity. More than two and a half decades later, and having lost a number of friends far too young, watching Kimble's dignified memorial on YouTube moves me far more than any minute of grainy basketball footage has a right to.

A love affair with a unique brand of American sports mania was born. I was hooked by the beautiful chaos of 63 single-elimination games played by outstanding athletes, nearly all of whom would never be paid a dime for their efforts.

The sentimentality of Kimble's tribute aside, the tragedy of Gathers' death was compounded by the fact that he had been projected to be a top pick in the upcoming NBA draft, which would have netted him and his family millions of guaranteed dollars.

Nearly every college athlete is fully aware they will never turn pro, and most top-tier stars drop out and enter the draft before an untimely injury befalls them and inhibits their future earning power. But Gathers had promised his mother he would fulfill her dream of him becoming the first member of his family to earn a bachelor's degree. His mother accepted his diploma from LMU, 10 weeks after he died.

March Madness and college sports as a whole comprise a billion-dollar business in which the athletes are forbidden from receiving so much as a free meal, yet required to train and perform so often and rigorously that the term scholar-athlete essentially has lost any meaning. What good is a bachelor's degree if you never had the time to learn anything?

Between the games themselves and the joys of bracketology, the NCAA tournament is a consistently compelling American sports tradition. But it is an ethically compromised affair, one which leaves little security and fewer benefits for its players.

Watch Alexis Garcia's Reason TV doc "How Much is a College Football Player Worth" below:

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  1. I don’t understand the appeal on March Madness. I guess you have to follow college basketball the rest of the year to really get it?

    1. You have to understand the appeal of gambling games of skill.

    2. Part of the appeal of college sports is that the athletes seem to really care about whether they win. That’s one of the reasons I like to see fighting in hockey. When one team is getting blown out, the opposing team will often start fights, partially to show the fans that they still care.

      That’s unusual with highly paid athletes.

      Half the time, I really don’t feel like NBA, NFL, or MLB players really care whether they win.

      That’s one of the reasons I think a lot of people like MMA, as well. The fighters can’t not care if they lose.

      1. But you feel they care in the NHL, right?

        1. Yeah. Otherwise, they wouldn’t fight like they do, when they do.

          It’s the honor system they learn in the Canadian junior leagues, too. And if you didn’t come up through that system yourself, the players who did will teach you about the honor system real quick.

          1. Yeh. Though I wonder if that will change moving forward. Especially as the NCAA continues to produce top draft prospects.

          2. Maybe they’re just bored because they know they’re losing, so they start a fight to break the boredom. They’re mostly Canadians, aren’t they?

            1. No, they don’t fight becasue they’re bored.

              It’s North American players, really.

              It’s called the code. You live by it.

              http://www.amazon.com/The-Code…..1572437561

              When they say fighting is part of the game in hockey, it really is. If the other team can crash your goalie or take out some key players by boarding them, they will!

              That’s one of the reasons why everyone hated the instigator rule. You take the guy that started the fight out of the game? The reason people don’t take cheap shots is because they know they’re going to have to go back in and face retaliation. Taking the instigator out is like an American League pitcher beaning somebody. What a pussy move! In the National league, if a pitcher beans somebody, then he has to go out and face the opposing team’s pitcher. It’s the same kind of thing.

              At some points, in certain games, you have to make it clear that they can’t bully you into losing. That’s especially true in the playoffs, when you’re playing the same team seven times in a row. They beat your stars up enough the first couple of nights, by game seven, your scoring stars are limping.

              Can you imagine if they did that in the NFL? What if the Super Bowl was a best of seven series? And fighting was part of the game!

              1. Yup to all that.

                Hardest trophy in sports to win?

                The Stanley Cup.

              2. Football can’t be played in a 7 game series like other sports because of the brutality of the game.

                To do so a 7 game playoff would take 2 months instead of two weeks.

                Fighting IS part of the game. Except for the OB and the receivers on offence, and some of the defensive backs. every snap is a fight. Even for them some snaps are a fight.

      2. Holmes taking down Rousey was a surprisingly exciting moment, even for so short a fight. And you’re exactly right, the passion and vigor makes up for it.

        1. Tyson knocking Spinks out.

          I barely opened my Mars bar and it was OVER.

          1. Mayweather vs. er his Brazilian opponent was… less exciting. I still regret paying cover for my one drink, no seat, and that fight.

          2. Hagler vs. Hearns. The most exciting professional boxing match I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.

            1. WITHOUT A DOUBT. SO MUCH THIS.

              That was an epic moment in my sports life.

              1. A little factoid for you: I was an amateur boxer for ten years and was once knocked out by Michael Spinks’ nephew, Cory. Good times. 😉

                1. Dislocated jaw?

                  Did you box for fun? Or were you training to to fight pro?

                  1. Not a dislocated jaw, he knocked me out far too quickly for that. 😉

                    I got into boxing at the age of 10 and gave it up at the age of 20.

                    I had aspirations of becoming pro but got a little side tracked during early 20’s. My pursuit of drug induced thrills and easy pussy ruined my chances of having a financially viable career in the sport.

                    I am currently a personal trainer/ boxing coach(not exactly the most intellectually stimulating profession). It pays the bills but at times I feel a touch like Uncle Rico( I bet I could punch a hole in that mountain). Ha!

                    1. There is no doubt…the commentariat here is comprised of interesting people.

    3. Most people don’t watch the regular season. The college basketball playoff is single elimination, meaning you lose one game and you’re out. Win and you keep advancing. It’s guaranteed drama, and most games are close after the first round, since 32 of the top teams are all that is left.

      Plus people can fill out brackets and compete against their friends and coworkers to predict the most games correctly, for fun and prizes (of various sizes). It’s like a 3-week fantasy league, with a big cash payout.

  2. “Between the games themselves and the joys of bracketology, the NCAA tournament is a consistently compelling American sports tradition. But it is an ethically compromised affair, one which leaves little security and fewer benefits for its players.”

    Does everything but eating home grown quinoa have to make us feel guilty?

    1. Don’t the players get free college tuition, worth about 30,000 dollars a year?

      1. And room and board.

        It’s not exactly free.

        They have to play basketball for it. They earn it.

        And if you get the free ride and get injured so you can’t play? You still get the free tuition, etc.

        1. I played club rugby at U of IL – I got exactly $0 in help for school, and when I got hurt, I paid for it. I wouldn’t have minded a little “exploitation”.

      2. It’s a pretty good deal.

        I wish I had been so cheated.

      3. More than 60 grand if you play for Yale, who won today after not having been in the tourney for 50 years….people will watch this.

  3. obsess over their brackets, peak at game coverage, or kibbitz with co-workers

    I’m not sure if I should be more offended at the implication that the goyim don’t know from kibbitz or the implication that I get sexually aroused by watching lanky sweaty young men running around in shorts.

    1. Although I suppose “peak at game coverage” could imply I get sexually aroused by Dick Vitale.

      1. He’s sporting wood, baby!!!

  4. Cry me a river. The guys on the team when I was in school got special meals, SUV’s with rockin stereos, tutors, special study facilities, and access some prime jersey-sniffing tail. Oh, and free tuition and housing at a university that none of them could have gotten into based on grades and test scores. Should the guys get some additional stipend? Maybe, but I cry no tears for them.

    1. The solution is to let kids good enough to play in pro leagues get drafted, regardless of age. Other kids that want to go to college and play sports can. If a kid is neither good enough ti play pro, or interested in college; what a boring person, stay in the hood and be a local legend.

      1. On this, Europe seems to have figured it out.

        1. How’s that, in Europe you get chosen for a college track when you are 14, no room for late bloomers there.

      2. The one and done rule is restraint of trade, I’m not defending it, but very few 18 year olds are NBA ready and many will never finish an education, which is sad.

    2. That free tuition and housing is contingent on the players largely forgoing an actual education so they can drill, work out, and play every day. And of course an injury will get them kicked to the curb because they have no bargaining leverage. Those “special meals” come with a dessert of suspension for accepting food. The league, schools, sponsors, and merchandisers are making bank from these guys hard work and talent, and they don’t get shit for it because the NCAA gets special protections from the government.

      1. An “actual education” is purely a credential anyway; few are learning in school. So you didn’t refute the credential as a benefit.

      2. Except plenty of athletes manage both. egould, I think, is correct here.

        1. This, we had a good football player here who barely lost out as a Rhodes Scholar, 4.0 GPA. As he was a redshirt he graduated with a biochemistry degree and in his 5th year also graduated with a PHILOSOPHY degree. We still have student athletes, people, it’s a good thing.

          Most of the dollars go to big programs but athletics allows thousands of athletes that won’t go pro will contribute in the future. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  5. Sometimes, listening to my fellow libertarians talk about student athletes sounds like progressives talking about internships.

    There are differences between those two situations, but there are similarities, too.

  6. peak at game coverage

    I just had a slam dunk in my pants.

  7. Agency, freedom of association, scholarships, preferential treatment… what are they?

  8. All big sports is a flaming rip off.

    http://www.Anon-Net.tk

  9. Is there any other sport where the last 10 seconds (in a close game) can take 20 minutes to play?

    1. ^ This. My biggest gripe with basketball is the absolute standstill an otherwise entertaining, close game devolves into.

    2. NBA

  10. over 77 million Americans will cost their employers almost $2 billion in lost man-hours as they obsess over their brackets,

    Assumes the conclusion. Most of that time would have been lost anyway. March Madness just takes it away from general internet browsing and water cooler talk time. It’s not like most professionals can do less work in a week — we still have to finish the same projects by the same deadlines. It just means more hours in the office.

  11. March Madness and college sports as a whole comprise a billion-dollar business in which the athletes are forbidden from receiving so much as a free meal, yet required to train and perform so often and rigorously that the term scholar-athlete essentially has lost any meaning. What good is a bachelor’s degree if you never had the time to learn anything?

    Generalizes from anecdotes. Many college basketball players do in fact graduate and earn degrees. Others attend class for a few years and pick up at least some knowledge from them. And they all know what they are signing up for, and compete hard to earn the few hundred scholarships offered every year.

  12. Any article on the subject which does not include the phrases “revenue sports” and “Title IX” is content less kvetching.

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