The Hypocrisy of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament

Count me in among the more than 90 percent of Americans who are skipping the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. I have no interest in brackets except for that billion dollar payoff offered by Warren Buffet. I find that it is rather intriguing that the almighty National Collegiate Athletic Association really never distanced itself from Buffet and the billion dollar offer when the organization is always on the offensive in an attempt to stop gambling on whatever product is thrown out there, a college basketball game or a college football game.

People are interested in the college basketball tournament partly because of gambling. But the NCAA, which is as pure as Caesar’s wife, has been built partially on gambling in the big revenue sports of football and basketball although the suits in the Ivy Tower on the campuses are horrified by that notion.

The NCAA didn’t want gambling on college sports in Delaware or New Jersey and fought to stop an effort by elected officials in both states to establish sports books. In New Jersey, voters opted to approve sports gambling in Atlantic City casinos and immediately sports organizations sued to block what the people wanted in a referendum. The NCAA was one of those sports organizations that decided that the will of the people should be silenced.

The NCAA is being attacked in a number of quarters these days. The Ed O’Bannon suit continues, Northwestern University football players are attempting to unionize and sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler has filed a class action suit against the NCAA, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac 12 and the Southeastern Conference accusing the entities of price fixing. Specifically Kessler thinks the colleges have banded together and have colluded to keep the players from sharing in the billions of dollars that have suddenly become available from cable TV deals.

There is quite a bit of merit to Kessler’s suit. College sports is really professional sports except the stars of the show, the players, get a scholarship and no salary for being part of the multibillion television show. Sure some athletes do use the system to get an education but for most football and basketball scholarship players there is no pot of gold at the end of the yellow brick road.

College coaches get rewarded handsomely and for those like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, the system has made him rich but Boeheim is one of the chief deniers of implementing a system which would pay college players.

The suits in the Ivy Towers on campuses realigned their conferences because of TV money.

There seemingly is a very simple solution that would solve the Kessler suit, the Northwestern suit and maybe address the O’Bannon lawsuit although the Ed O’Bannon class action suit is going after another NCAA problem. Who exactly owns a players face or likeness, the player of the NCAA and does the NCAA own the players face or likeness in perpetuity? Federal Judge Claudia Wilkin in February ruled to allow the O’Bannon case to proceed and a trial will start on June 9 which will address the likeness issue.

The NCAA, which really is college and university presidents, chancellors, provosts, board of trustees, could stop acting in pure greed and give up a small share of television money to every athlete in every sport. It is very easy to do. Build in a couple of extra television commercials in every televised event (from football to swimming and lacrosse), whether it is on network TV, cable TV or regional cable TV and pay the players. Negotiate some sort of union scale type deal and everyone gets paid every time there is a game on TV in any sport.

Coaches get paid in part through cable TV deals with coaches’ shows. Why not the players? In the NCAA Men’s Tournament, say there are as many as 18 players per team, which means there are 36 employees who are need as cast members for the television production. At $1,000 an athlete, that’s $36,000 in wages. There is no way anyone can say that the colleges could not find $36,000 from network monies to pay the athletes per game. The money is there from cable and satellite TV subscriber fees (remember 95 percent of those paying the fees will never watch the event and that was created by Congress in 1984 and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, a free market proponent who created cable TV socialism) and additional funding comes from marketing partners or advertisers.

All of these conference-cable TV deals are rich and the money is provided for the most part by people stuck with these channels who pay for something they never watch, like the Big Ten channel thanks to Reagan’s signature. Every time there is a game on these regional channels, the players in all sports should get paid a salary as ensemble layers. An entry level salary coming from the cable subscribers and advertisers.

The players are the show. They play yet the lords of the manor; the coaches get the TV monies, the sneaker company money and other endorsements. The sad part is that college football and basketball fans buy into the system and think that there is no problem with the system.

The system, led by the college and university presidents, chancellors, provosts, board of trustees, is taking advantage of athletes. The candy is the scholarship, which isn’t even a full ride, and the opportunity to develop athletic skills. But the NCAA-players contract is all tilted to the college/university and is stifling to the athlete. The athlete cannot even get a real off campus job because the occupants of the Ivy Tower offices, the presidents, chancellors, provosts, the board of trustees, are “worried” that some booster might give a star players a golden handshake and a no show job.

The player is on a year to year deal and the scholarship can be terminated at any time. A coach is free is skip out on his or her contract but a player who might want to go elsewhere has to sit out a year.

O’Bannon, Kessler and the Northwestern football players want to fix a broken system that takes advantage of teenagers who aren’t savvy enough to understand they are pawns in the game of life. They just want to keep playing sports.

The NCAA, which really is made up of the school presidents, chancellors, provosts, board of trustees, really doesn’t care if a player graduates although for public relations consumption they feed some docile document to the sports media extolling the virtues of the student athlete graduation rate increasing. The NCAA doesn’t care much about the long term health of the meat on the hook, college football players who sacrifice their bodies to please boosters and jock sniffer at alma mater U. There are questions about medical care football players receive and the want to just keep players on the field.

The sportswriters who have created the myth of the importance of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament will spit out stories of Cinderella, the Sweet Sixteen, praise the likes of overrated and over exaggerated coaches like Boeheim, Rick Pitino and canonize others. They are a major cog in the machine and will never dare mention O’Bannon, Kessler and the Northwestern players. The networks, in this case CBS and Turner, will build and construction a drama, a narrative which probably resembles faux TV shows like Survivor, American Idol, The Voice although sports isn’t scripted like those TV productions. But the NCAA is really nothing more than a mere TV production, time filler although the CBS/Turner entity is paying billions (mostly with other people’s money–it is cable TV after all) for the right to show the games.

What is fair is fair, the players should get a cut of that money, they are the ensemble players and ensemble players on TV productions get paid.

Without them, there is no TV show.

Evan Weiner can be reached at evanjweine[email protected]. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available ( ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, ( ), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA ( ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports ( and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition ( ) are available from e-book distributors globally. 2014 e-book, sports business 2010-14( ). The e-books are available from e-book distributors globally.