When I was a little boy I got hurt playing both football and baseball. The problem, we found out, was that I had what is often called a lazy eye. (officially: Amblyopia ). My mom made me quit all sports, and I lost all interest. That’s never changed, so the marketing hype called March Madness is just that to me: hype. I don’t have anything against basketball, but I don’t have that passion.
Still, I know that lots of people enjoy the entire ritual from filling out the brackets to the final game. What I find more interesting this year is that the basketball championships have produced two revealing exposes of college sports. First, was the Frontline report called Money and March Madness (I mentioned it last week), and then was a Real Sports episode (#168).
I’ve always thought that the emphasis on sports in college was a symptom of U.S. anti-intellectualism, if not one of its causes, and I knew that enormous amounts of money were generated by these programs, especially football and basketball, but the scale of both the profits and the exploitation ought to shock anyone. It’s not millions, or hundreds of millions, but billions of dollars.
That means we ought to be able to fund a big chunk of our college system on our love (even I might love sports if this were true) of a few sports. Instead, of course, as both shows illustrate, the money is funneled into administrative and coach salaries and expensive stadiums and the like. When it comes to reform, though, both shows focus too heavily on the athletes.
The athletes are certainly exploited and they should be compensated: the idea of a graduation bonus is long over due and after graduation the athletes ought to be paid if their images are used in video games or promotions and the like. That’s just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. I think that the profits ought to be pooled and used as a kind of permanent scholarship fund.
As the cliché goes, this would be a win-win situation. I don’t think athletes are greedy; they just want a cut. I also think that many of them would be happy to know that, along with their piece of the pie, they are helping to create opportunities for generations to come. We’d emphasize the importance of education. And we would damped the greed of couches and administrators.