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SBM Sports: The Only Thing Wrong With March Madness


My name is Joe Sargent, I am a sports fanatic working in Marketing in Richmond, VA. I’m excited to contribute to SBM and looking forward to you learning more about me as time goes on. I’ll cut the boring introductions off there because:

It’s tourney time! Selection Sunday kicked off my favorite single event in sports: March Madness. These are the days I hope it’s the year for Michigan, pray it’s NOT the year for Duke, and root for buzzer beaters and upsets (…of Duke).

The first four days of the tournament include 48(!) games from noon to midnight. I have actually taken days off of work to make sure I caught every basket. It’s that serious.

As much as I love March Madness, I’m always left with 99% elation and 1% guilt. There are dozens of sponsors each spending millions for exposure, and I wonder what it would take to cut the players in on this (growing) pool of money. This doesn’t include the $11 BILLION given to the NCAA for the right to broadcast the tournament. We can agree that none of these sponsors (or their money) would exist if there were no players, right? So why can’t the players earn a percentage? I believe there is a way to provide college athletes with a monthly stipend while allowing them to earn money through sponsorship. This is a similar model to the Olympic system.

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The short answer is that the NCAA considers itself an amateur sports organization. Thus, in order to keep its tax-free status, NCAA athletes cannot capitalize financially in any way on their physical ability or fame.

In one extreme case, the NCAA suspended Oklahoma University baseball player Aaron Adair for writing You Don’t Know Where I’ve Been, a book about surviving brain cancer. They were concerned that a student athlete was connected to “a corporate product,” though the book was about cancer, not baseball.

Overall, those who feel student athletes do not deserve pay have two main arguments. They are:

The athletes receive athletic scholarships that cover all of their expenses; they are already paid.

I would argue against this in two ways. First, athletic scholarships don’t always cover every expense. A 2010 Ithaca College study finds that there is an average shortfall of $2,951 between the amount a student receives for an athletic scholarship and the cost to attend that university. This gap ranges from manageable ($200) to ridiculous ($10,962). In either case, the point is the same; even if you believe an athletic scholarship represents “payment,” it doesn’t do an adequate job in many cases.

I’ll explain my second issue with this argument through metaphor. There is a profession that exists where the workers earn money that they immediately hand over to a “manager.” This manager pays the workers in “stuff.” This stuff is protection, guidance, food, and clothing on an as-needed basis. Notice that the manager does NOT pay workers in money.

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In that profession, we castigate the managers for exploiting workers and arrest them. Maybe if the NCAA President wore a pink suit, gators, and carried a chalice he would be easier to spot.

The players should be happy! They get to play a game, and should play for pride.

Why don’t you send me your next paycheck via Paypal? Work for pride! With games, practice, training, film study, and school, NCAA athletes probably spend as much time working as most of us. You are reading this at your desk after all.

The reason I won’t receive any money via Paypal is the same reason athletes deserve compensation. No matter what you do for a living, you pur your time into it and help drive your company’s bottom line. We all deserve to share in what we help generate. That goes for accountants, consultants, and athletes.

Realistically, the NCAA has no motivation to allow its student athletes to earn money. It would cost the organization both billions in taxes and the considerable control it has wielded for decades. I will always love March Madness, but it will never be unconditional. While corporate sponsors capitalize on the players seeking to become legends, how can I shake the fact that there’s more than enough to go around?

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Until Next Time,

Joe Sargent


  1. Another point is how just about every student is allowed to make their own ends except players. A student on an academic scholarship can start his/her own business. A college scholarship covers tuition, room and board however transportation home, alcohol, clothes, & books are not free. Scholarships only go so far and while the NCAA knows this, they rather pocket the money

  2. As long as Mark Emmert is the head of the NCAA you won't see any athletes get paid at all. Should athletes earn some money from the revenue they generate? Sure. I just don't think it's very realistic. Unless you find a way to make a legit and fair argument why The Ohio State University's football team gets a stipend, but the women's water polo team should not this issue will always fall deaf ears at the NCAA upper levels.

    The reality of the situation is that most schools/university Athletic departments already operate at a loss…they're in the red. So to tell those school presidents that they must go further into the hole is obviously not an option. The assumption here, of course, that since the NCAA is under one large umbrella schools such as Middle of Nowhere State will have to pay their players the same amount as Ohio State football pays theirs. Good luck getting around that stipulation.

    So although I want these Athlete-Students (see what I did there) to make some cash, I'm just not confident in the feasability with the current structure and leadership in place.

    1. Easiest work around is just to let individuals be able to accept some sort of sponsorship money (pay college star player to appear in a local car dealership commercial, etc…) that way it's not associated with the NCAA….but this still won't work for the reasons that was mentioned in the article above. That rule would need to be amended.

    2. The NCAA doesnt want to open the can of worms in paying players themselves but forbidding players to earn their own pay is something different. If the QB at USC can get a deal with under armour why not let him.

      1. Using their fame/notariety for peronal financial gain is pretty much prohibited through the eyes of the NCAA. Now if he got a job on campus painting fences or planting flowers then that's ok. Those work-study programs are everywhere. Those jobs aren't hiring you because you are the QB at USC…but Under Armour is sponsoring because you are. That's the rub and the main difference.

        I agre with you, though. Let them make loot. Not his/her fault all the other students aren't as popular, lol.

        1. "Those work-study programs are everywhere. Those jobs aren't hiring you because you are the QB at USC…but Under Armour is sponsoring because you are. That's the rub and the main difference. "

          ^^^ a subtlety that very few people address. Athletes working in the library or campus security on their off-days doesn't fit the image of a future pro prospect. These guys can't win until they win

  3. this is late but just wanted to say I like the sports addition. Don't know much about college sports (or most sports outside of soccer) so I think this new segment will be interesting.
    Welcome Joe!

  4. Thanks for reading/commenting guys.

    I agree to a large extent with Larry. I think it would be very hard to divide the money, BUT I know the NCAA has the means to do so. $11 billion is a ton of money, and that's just one (albeit the biggest) TV contract. There's a way to give an equitable amount to all scholarship athletes.

    I don't think the NCAA will ever expose itself to tax liability by paying athletes outright. But if there's a way to incorporate the Olympic model where athletes can earn sponsorships as they see fit, I'd be in favor.

    Next post will be dedicated to the ridiculousness of calling the games today the "First Round" and the weekend games "Second/Third" round. That may be worse than not paying players, haha.

    Good luck on your brackets everybody!

  5. All I have to say is that the NCAA is a very f****d up system. Like Mr. Wilbon said "The NCAA is the distant cousin of the BCS"


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