The Definition of March Madness

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In the middle of March Madness with broken billion dollar dreams and a torched bracket, I moved away from my television to find some comic relief. I needed a laugh. When someone picks Duke in the Final Four and they lose in the first round, you definitely need a laugh.

The picks we all made were awful as usual. But for a chance at $1 billion, many of us filled out brackets and kept our fingers (and toes) crossed for some fairytale luck.

How could I be mad at college kids?

Or Warren Buffett for that matter?

His alignment with Capital One to drive approximately 100 million people to enter their NCAA tournament brackets (and personal information) can be described in two words: big business. Buffet’s bet that no one would predict a perfect bracket combined with people’s madness about the March basketball tournament gave many of us the type of hope we feel when the Powerball reaches ridiculously high values.

The irrational kind.

This time of year, the NCAA can just layback and let the money roll in. The networks, sponsors, and fans are happy with the month of athletic chaos. More importantly, they get their little piece of Americana. Back in 2011, the NCAA scored a 14-year, $10.8 billion television contract to broadcast every game of the tournament.

Oh, what about Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, or any of the other star players accounting for the bulk of their team’s apparel sales and a portion of the advertising dollars their school collects? They get to play in the tournament, silly.

A poll released by the Washington Post last week shows that folks are not interested in paying college athletes. The poll, released in conjunction with ABC news, revealed that only 33 percent of respondents believe the student athletes should be paid. This was consistent in each demographic segment, except for the non-White category; this group supported paying players by a very slim margin (51 percent in favor).

But, a recent ruling allowing Northwestern University student athletes to unionize could change all that.

Plus, the advertisers are paying a pretty penny to those networks to get their brands in front of your face. According to 2013 statistics on advertisements during March Madness, companies spent just about $738 million to Turner and CBS. Twenty-one percent of those ads were from automotive companies eager to sell those new models.

Coaches are also in on the action. Last year, USA Today published the salaries of 62 of the 68 coaches with teams who qualified for the March tournament.  The average salary for a coach in the tournament was $1.47 million. Mike Krzyzewski, who makes $7 million more than his star recruits, led this category.

Even Bill Maher knows why this is America’s second favorite pastime currently. Last week, the comedian tweeted his take on the tournament.


The truth hurts.

The idea of amateur athletics is dead. Young athletes all over this country are being capitalized on to the point now where COLLEGE coaches are taking commitments from preteens in middle school.

Fundamentally, the rationale behind compensating student athletes is not that difficult to grasp–unless you support a business model that allows for not paying the labor force. The exact model that should be followed has generated hundreds of theories and projections as to how students should be paid. ESPN College Basketball analyst Jay Bilas stated his opinion at a panel discussion this past fall at his alma mater.

“The problem I am trying to solve is one of fundamental fairness…[NCAA is] running a professional sports organization and I don’t think it’s fair that only one class of people is restricted to their expenses only and nothing more.”

At it’s essence, the issue of compensating student athletes drives toward a model that resembles fairness. That fairness stems from our American belief that an honest day’s work demands an honest day’s pay. No one who works for anyone else in this country actually believes that they are being paid what they are responsible for generating for their boss. But there is a wide gap between that and today’s model.

So what’s the answer? Maybe young basketball prospects will consider playing overseas? I would encourage my son to go across the pond would support my son if he elected to get paid instead of getting played.

After all, this is America man.

About B. Gram

B. Gram is a freelance writer on sports and hip-hop culture. He graduated from college in Atlanta and currently works and lives in the DC Metro area. You can follow him on Twitter at @TrynaBe_Gram or at Rap’d Up Radio in the iTunes store.