If you are a college hoops fan, March Madness is more than just busted brackets, hot wings and beer. It is a tradition that is a part of who you are as a fan. It is the near constant fix of your drug of choice: NCAA basketball! If you are the NCAA, it is a time to bring in the green. March Madness presents corporate sponsors and the NCAA with unparalleled access to fans, and fans mean money. This year, the “Corporate Champions” will pay millions for their right to say that they are an official partner. The return on investment, however, is huge. Last year alone, the ads generated over $1.15 billion in revenue for sponsors. Who wouldn’t want that kind of return on investment? The only partner who didn’t cash in on overwhelming success of partnering with the NCAA? The athletes.
While the athletes are the ones who are risking it all every time they step out onto the court (remember Kevin Ware in the 2013 tournament), they are the not the ones that are reaping the financial rewards of their efforts. Is this fair? That is the question that many courts will be deciding in the near future as the NCAA faces a firestorm of plaintiffs and lawsuits stating that it isn’t. The biggest argument is that the NCAA is making bank on its sponsorship deals, while it creates one bylaw after another forbidding the athletes to do the same.
The recent ruling at Northwestern that the college athletes were actually university employees, and not student-athletes as determined by the NCAA, has taken the argument to a whole new level. Under this ruling, as employees, the players have the right to form a union and bargain over their working conditions. Some people think that if the players can bargain over their working conditions, they will want to be paid, just as professional athletes are. And this may change college sports forever.
The argument for paying college athletes is growing, and it has some staunch supporters. I am not buying what they are selling, however. Let’s face it. In most instances, only football and basketball are making any money. What does this say to the soccer player? Sorry, you are talented but not worth much? Or do you have football and basketball footing the bill for all athletes? Second, the players are already being payed to play. They receive an education, as well as expert coaching and medical care. Most are also provided with housing and meal plans. In some instances, this could cost a university a tremendous amount of green. I don’t really blame athletes for following in the footsteps of their high-contract mentors like Calipari and Pitino. Athletes are simply following in the wake of their schools, coaches and governing body in the quest for more money, more money, more money.