March Madness undoubtedly offers some of the best sports competition of the calendar year (both the men and women's NCAA Tournament, and the men's NIT Tournament, too). The single elimination format (bye bye Missouri and Duke...), as well as the ability for any fan to "pick" the winners of their own bracket (when you have no idea about either team, I suggest choosing the place you'd rather live as a last ditch method), all make for an unbeatable spectator sports combination.
(While the national spotlight has focused on the men's NCAA Tournament reaching its sweet sixteen round, Coach Kellogg's team over at UMass is putting together a very nice run in the runner-up NIT Tournament, nearly earning a bonus home game this Tuesday. Instead they'll travel to Drexel, where a win would put them in Madison Square Garden as one of the touney's four remaining teams. Promising signs for the program, and next year's season, either way.)
Then there's that whole "amateur" sports NCAA thing.
"This March Madness tournament brings in $10.8 billion in television funds alone comprising 90 percent of the NCAA's operating budget and underwriting the lavish salaries of everyone we don’t pay to watch," writes Dave Zirin (of MEF's great documentary Not Just A Game) over at The Nation. "NCAA President Mark Emmert won't disclose his salary as leader of his "non profit" but it's thought to be in excess of $2 million a year. He has fourteen vice presidents, each of whom make at least $400,000 annually."
As Zirin notes, the NCAA suspended Kansas State center Jamar Samuels for alledgedly (since the surprise ruling was made a mere twenty minutes before the game, there wasn't any time to look further into the accusations) "taking $200 from his Amateur Athletic Union coach" so he could help feed his family. Well played NCAA, well played.
(This is the second time Kansas State has made off-the-court news this tournament cycle. The first occurred last week, during their game against Mississippi, when Ole Miss band members chanted "Where's your green card?" at Puerto Rican freshman guard Angel Rodriguez.)
The NCAA has, of late, finally been getting its well-deserved share of due criticism. Last fall, Taylor Branch's "The Shame Of College Sports" was the cover story for The Atlantic. "We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table," the story's lead-in noted. "But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves."
And this past weekend, the aforementioned Zirin joined ESPN's Jemele Hill, and CNBC contributor and BET columnist Keith Boykin on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show to talk about the politics of the big business NCAA. It's well worth a watch (and the effort of enduring the annoying 30-second pre-clip commercial).
The NCAA needs to answer to questions about their policies of not guaranteeing four year scholarships for their "student-athletes," and not allowing players to earn money through part time jobs while in college. As well as the convenience of high school athletes playing basketball and football (the NCAA's two biggest money-making sports) not being allowed to go straight to the NBA, or the NFL, respectively. They owe at least that much to the athletes. And to the fans, as well.
(In the meantime, remember to check out UMass tomorrow night at 7 on ESPN.)