5 Reasons the NCAA Tournament Is a Total Scam
March Madness has begun! For fans of college basketball, this is the most wonderful time of the year. The NCAA 68-team collegiate mega-tournament promises action-packed drama in the form of wildly gesticulating coaches, sudden-death eliminations, and lots and lots of basketball. As a former student of a Division I school that was this close to taking it all, I'm still a huge fan and get caught up in the excitement just as much as anyone else. That said, the NCAA is a horribly flawed institution, and that's never more apparent than when tournament time rolls around. Here are a few reasons why March Madness is the worst best sporting event ever ...
Cinderella Stories and the Perfect Bracket Are Fantasies
Everyone loves a fairytale ending, and the NCAA tournament makes a huge deal of the fact that, in theory, any team could win it all. The thing about theories, though, is that they're just that. In practice, March Madness is more about fairytale beginnings that usually crash and burn by the third round at best. "Cinderella" teams are great for business and television viewership, so it behooves the media to play up the same scrappy 'David versus Goliath' angle every year, but it's a total damn pipe dream. A 16th-seed team has never bested a No. 1 seed and probably never will. If it does happen, that's almost certainly where the dragon slaying will come to an end.
Even last year's Duke-Mercer second round upset was far from a Disney-esque fantasy come to life.
Unless you hate Duke, and you should.
After all the hoopla, how did the upstart Mercer Bears fare after knocking the Blue Devils down? They lost in the very next round to Tennessee. The fact is, over the past 30 years, only nine teams seeded No. 6 or lower have ever reached the Final Four. Mercer's win was nothing more than an anomaly that serves no other purpose than to propel that dipshit in accounting who only picked teams with animal mascots as winners to an undeserved win in the office bracket pool.
Goddamn you, Phil!
Speaking of that, for all your strategizing and theorizing, your tournament bracket will be busted. If Duke doesn't do it by losing early (they will), some unknown No. 12 seed will beat a No. 5 seed, and you'll still be ruined. Whereas a No. 16 seed has never won in the first round, it's been 2007 since a No. 5 seed didn't have their dreams broken by a borderline community college. It's happened 44 times in total.
The point is, Bracketology is really just a study in frustration and mathematical improbability. The perfect bracket is pretty much unattainable, but that doesn't stop people from dreaming about it. Last year Quicken Loans partnered with Warren Buffett to offer $1 billion to anyone who could correctly predict the outcome of the 2014 tournament games. A billion dollars is a lot of money to put on the line, but an extremely safe bet and brilliant marketing ploy on the part of Buffett and the loan company. As DePaul University mathematics professor Jeff Bergen has explained, there is less than one in 9.2 quintillion chance of getting it just right.
As a result, after all the hype and excitement has died down after the first few rounds and your bracket is in tatters, the NCAA tourney actually gets way less interesting for most people as it heads toward the finish.
It's All About Gambling (Just Not Officially)
March Madness is the Super Bowl of sports betting. I know, you'd think the Super Bowl would be the Super Bowl of sports betting, but you're wrong. According to the New York Times, more than $200 million is legally wagered on the tournament every March, more than two times the legal Super Bowl action. But that number pales in comparison to the amount of unsanctioned punting that goes on. In 2013, the FBI estimated that $2.5 billion was bet illegally on the tournament, while professional bookmakers put the numbers even higher, at somewhere between $12 to $26 billion.
Don't rule out that someone at the FBI just shifted a decimal point and didn't care enough to fix it.
That's certainly a lot of ill-gotten hay for an event ostensibly tied to the lofty ideals of amateurism and the pursuit of higher learning. But what's the harm? Well, some would argue that March Madness has turned into a national gambling holiday and that athleticism and sportsmanship have taken a back seat to the allure of a financial windfall. That's not a good look for an organization that takes keeping student athletes broke and hungry so seriously, they disciplined three college football players for eating too much pasta at a charity banquet in 2013.
Officially, the NCAA "opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community."
Unofficially, can the NCAA really pretend they are that opposed to betting on the tournament? More people with a financial stake in the games means more television viewers, leading to higher revenues, which in turn lines the NCAA coffers. Even this NCAA anti-gambling PSA seems halfhearted at best ...
... as the main crux of their argument against wagering on college sports seems to be "don't do it, because college athletes are idiots."
And for all their bluster about keeping gambling out of college sports, the NCAA looks the other way when schools compete in tournaments taking place in gambling meccas like the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas or the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. And that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the NCAA hypocrisy.
The NCAA Operates Like a Cartel
According to NCAA president Mark Emmert, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was founded over 100 years ago for "the purpose of protecting student-athlete well-being, providing the approximation of a level playing field and providing safeguards around the nature of intercollegiate sport." Sounds like a very noble endeavor, but somewhere along the way this nonprofit organization also figured out a way to rake in billions of (tax-free!) dollars, with the tournament generating at least 90 percent of the operating budget.
Also a nonprofit organization, for the record.
Plastered with corporate sponsorships, endowed with a $700-million television contract and merchandised to the hilt, March Madness might as well just print its own money.
Business is booming, and while the billions keep rolling in, not much beyond scholarship money trickles down to the players. When it comes to compensating athletes for the revenue they generate, the NCAA behaves more like Simon Legree than a benevolent big brother. In fact, many have accused the NCAA of being a ruthless cartel engaged in a scheme to control the market that makes OPEC look like a knitting circle, all while hiding behind the guise of protecting the "amateurism" of the student-athlete.
Bound by the shackles of their amateurism, players are barely receiving the crumbs of this very profitable pie, but not everyone is walking away hungry ...
Coaches Are Rewarded Handsomely for Bad Behavior
Whether he's hurling expletives till he's red in the face or flailing about wildly in his ill-fitting suit, the coach's courtside antics are almost as fun to watch as the games themselves. While their actions often straddle the line between thuggery and buffoonery ...
... the salaries of Division I basketball coaches are no joke. In fact, college coaches are the highest paid state employees in 40 states ... and by a pretty substantial margin. So what exactly do the states receive in return for laying out all of that taxpayer dough? It's debatable. Former UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun was as unapologetic over receiving millions from Connecticut while the state was in crisis as he was about leaving the UConn basketball program in tatters and the dismal graduation rate (under 30 percent) of his players.
In terms of handsome payouts, Second Round Loser Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski leads the pack at over 9.5 million a year.
John Calipari, who USA Today dubbed "the worldwide leader in Final Four asterisks," has the dubious distinction of having two vacated titles under his belt. The first one was after he took UMass to the Final Four in 1996 and then again with Memphis in 2008. The NCAA expunged both teams' Final Four appearances and 42 wins from the record books. If you thought this type of record would prevent him from moving on to another NCAA Division I team, joke's on you. The Kentucky Wildcats couldn't wait to throw millions at Calipari to tie his style of success to their institute of higher learning.
On the bright side, the national championship he's probably going to win this year will mean nothing, eventually.
And these savvy coaches have built into their contracts that even if they fail or break the rules, the money will keep rolling in.
Of course not all Division I coaches have it that easy. Some have to get creative to squeeze extra money out of an athletic program. For instance, by participating in "buy games." For those not familiar with the practice, in a sort of perverse athletic pimp/prostitution dynamic, players are sent to get their asses handed to them by much better teams so coaches can benefit financially from their guaranteed losses.
Basically, the almost-guaranteed-to-lose school benefits by having a big name show up at their arena, thus drawing thousands of extra fans to witness a brutal beating. The larger school benefits because the smaller school is paying them for this privilege. So, everybody wins! Well, except for the fact that, as always ...
The Student-Athlete Gets The Short End of The Stick
Student-athletes that compete at the tournament level are basically working a high-stress, strenuous full-time job. As noted in the 2013 documentary Schooled: The Price of College Sports, their situation is not that dissimilar to indentured servitude. They meet all the criteria to be considered employees of their schools, and while other students performing work for the school receive a paycheck, the athletes get none.
In addition, unlike the coaches with their built in golden parachutes, most student-athletes have no guarantees they can keep their scholarships beyond a single year. While the NCAA finally started allowing multiple-year scholarships back in 2011, schools are not required to award them and it's still not a popular practice. This means most student athletes can be booted for disappointing "participation expectations" on the playing field to make room for a better player. They also better not get injured or they might be out the cost of the medical expenses as well.
You're allowed to keep your practice jersey if you exit the building before security arrives.
The sad truth is, 98% of these athletes bringing glory and financial gain to the school, won't go on to the pros and completely miss out on any opportunity to benefit from their fleeting celebrity.
What's the bigger upset? Duke going down in the second round or finding out that after four years of higher education you're only qualified to work at a crappy rental car company?
But the NCAA stranglehold on the purse strings may be loosening. The recent Ed O'Bannon trial was a win for the student-athlete. O'Bannon, a retired college basketball player, argued that students should be compensated for their work on the field and the licensing of their images. The NCAA countered with some pretty tenuous reasoning why athletes shouldn't be paid, including testimony from NCAA President Emmert that paying athletes would "hurt traditions like tailgaiting."
This needs to be preserved, people.
This past August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken was unswayed by the preservation of tailgating and ruled that the NCAA "unreasonably restrain trade" and was in violation of antitrust laws. This decision opened up the possibility of college athletes being paid by the NCAA and being compensated for use of their likenesses. However, the NCAA can still set rules governing eligibility and has the power to keep athletes from signing endorsement deals, so don't expect things to get much better anytime soon.
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