Millions of sport fans were glued to their television sets throughout the month of March. The Final Four annually ranks among the top three most watched sporting events. The Final Four isn’t simply basketball in its purest form anymore – it is a multi-billion dollar business.
CBS’ recent contract signing with the NCAA will give the association slightly more than $6 billion over 11 years for the right to televise the tournament. This deal ushers in a whole new era.
What happened to the theory that college athletes were students first and athletes second? What happened to the sport that was comprised of students who, by definition, aren’t professionals?
The NCAA’s current deal with CBS rakes in $1.725 billion from the eight-year contract in effect through 2002. The new contract stirs up many issues within college basketball.
A committee recently called for large revisions in the NCAA’s amateurism guidelines. The proposed rules would allow colleges to recruit athletes who accept prize money, sign contracts with professional teams, enter rookie drafts, or accept money for playing sports.
College coaches are getting upward of $1 million a year. Former Celtics coach Rick Pitino recently signed a 6 year $12.25 million dollar deal. This doesn’t include professional endorsements, sneaker contracts, or other benefits.
The NCAA does distribute some money to the schools. They currently give $50,000 dollars to each Division I school. Each school also scores corporate sponsors and numerous donations.
Players are beginning to see money pass through the ranks and they want a piece of the pie too. A council lead by Shane Battier of Duke fame has raised the issue of a possible stipend for NCAA players. Theoretically this may seem fair, since the NCAA is capitalizing on these players’ work.
However, colleges simply can’t hand out money to basketball players, and dismiss other student athletes who participate in different sports.
Under current NCAA rules, student athletes can receive tuition, room, board, books, academic tutoring, equipment and apparel related to competition, four complimentary tickets, medical treatment, and job assistance, all for free. Average athletic scholarships fall about $2,000 short of meeting total costs of attendance.
The word “student” comes before “athlete” in student-athlete. Perhaps some students have forgotten this. While they are out searching for stipends because they play a game, they forget why they are at college, to get an education. According to NCAA statistics, student-athletes graduate at a rate of approximately 42 percent.
It is quite ironic that the college basketball film “Blue Chips” is shown on cable television the weekend of the Final Four — a film in which a fictional west-coast university lures three top college basketball prospects with cash, cars, and women. Nick Nolte, playing the embattled coach, finally realizes what college basketball is about, the money. After winning the championship but feeling guilty, he states, “It ain’t about education, it’s about winning. It’s about money.”
Collegiate basketball is still a favorite among many. A game that showcases young talent before they are tainted with multi-million dollar deals. We need more players who are out there playing their hearts out because of their love and respect for the game. It is these players that are lost among thebillion-dollar shuffle. These are the athletes that deserve to be rewarded.
They don’t show up at 5 a.m. practices thinking about how much money they can make in the NBA. They show up because they care. It’s hard not to lose focus while we watch the Final Four, while we are bombarded with ads and corporate logos.