Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Madness, the Nonprofit Charade, and Indentured Servitude

An interesting op-ed in last week's L.A. Times exposes the open secret about NCAA basketball (and football, for that matter).  The only people not profiting from nonprofit collegiate sports are the players themselves.  And don't tell me that the players are profiting by way of a free education because for the most part nearly every student who wants to go to college can get about the same amount of financial aid that student atheletes get, and for a lot less "work-study."  Anyway, here is an excerpt from the op-ed:

Just don't get bamboozled, for there is more to this heart-thumping event -- America's two-week Spring Hoops Fling -- than what shows. My advice: Love every minute of the slick production, the colors, the gloss. But don't forget, you're watching a charade. The NCAA trumps itself up as guardian of the lofty ideal of amateurism. How sweet.  "But this is only amateur for the college athlete, and for some of them, amateurism is a stretch," said Randy Grant, who recently co-authored "The Economics of Intercollegiate Sports" and is an economics professor at Oregon's Linfield College.  "It's certainly not amateur for the schools or coaches," he said. "No, this is big, big business."   The NCAA will end up reeling in $6 billion from CBS for the current TV deal, which ends in 2013. A $6-billion treasure trove, and that's to say nothing of the myriad corporate sponsorships. Not bad for an entity protected by non-profit, tax-exempt status because of its "educational mission."  Yet there are some schools in the tournament that seem to understand what education means. Based on the most recent NCAA graduation success-rate survey, which followed freshmen who entered school no later than 2001, seven tournament teams graduated their players at a 100% clip. Kudos to Utah State, Western Kentucky, Robert Morris, Marquette, Binghamton, Wake Forest and Florida State.

And then there is this gem:

Sure, many of these basketball studs get full-ride scholarships. But when you compare the price of a scholarship -- often a $20,000-to-$30,000 benefit -- to the hundreds of millions made from their sweat, where's the fairness? There is none.  It hardly ends there. Players (who might better be termed laborers, given the boatloads of cash they produce for their schools) can lose their scholarships at the end of any year for any reason, even a whim. It's the coach's call. Moreover, NCAA transfer rules often strip players of the freedom to move around that other students enjoy because if you switch schools at the wrong time, you have to sit out for a year. And when these players need advice on the future, they're stuck on an island, alone. Even those on a surefire path to the NBA can't hire an agent without losing their eligibility.

Talk about indentured servitude!  For a serious and more nuanced discussion see Professor Colombo's recent scholarly expose on the charade.  In the meantime, go Pitt Panthers!


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