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Opinion: Exploitation of college athletes is maddening

Like many college basketball fans, I have been glued to a television set for the past week.

The National Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament now earns more than $1 billion in revenue for the NCAA.

For fans like me, a NCAA men's basketball bracket is always within arm’s reach. My productivity at work and school always plummets this time of year.

I was living in upstate New York when Carmelo Anthony and the Syracuse Orange made their NCAA title run in 2003. Those guys were like super heroes to me.

Eleven-year-old me was too naïve to ask a basic question that year. I’m ready to ask it now: What are the players getting out of this insanely popular basketball tournament?

Winning is nice. But a spot in the Sweet Sixteen does not put food in the refrigerator or heat in the apartment.

NCAA student-athletes live well below the poverty line. One example of this came in 2014, when UConn’s star guard Shabazz Napier told reporters before a game he is so broke “sometimes (he) go(es) to bed starving.”

To me, that is unfathomable.

Don’t the athletes that I, and other sports fans, look up to deserve to be financially comfortable while representing their universities in a million-dollar sporting event?

As I sit and watch guys like Napier play, I start to feel dirty.

Every advertisement is college basketball-themed. The spectacle is completely branded. Each second is monetized. The barrage of “media timeouts” is calculated and constant.

It’s starting to make sense.

I want to watch entertaining basketball. The NCAA wants my eyeballs to see the advertisements during breaks in the action. 

We both get what we want.

But what do the players — whose skill and cooperation the entire moneymaking machine depends on — want? What do they get out of this?

They want to get paid. And they should be. They deserve it.

The NCAA calls these young men and women “amateur” athletes, and claims based on that nomenclature, they cannot and will not be paid.

Every student athlete in the NCAA is forced to sign a contract — a portion of which has an assumption of amateur status clause. This states they understand they cannot profit in any way from the hours of work they put in to a basketball career.

Meanwhile, high-profile basketball coaches can, and in some cases are encouraged to, sign multi-million dollar sneaker deals and basketball camp contracts.

The revenue paths for these overpaid, testosterone-fueled ex-jocks appear endless.

School administrators, who work for supposed nonprofits, are essentially tasked with finding ways to spend money. So pay your coach a fortune, update your facilities every few years and all of a sudden it looks like you are barely breaking even.

This is all to promote a public university, keep the alumni donating money and fans buying sweatshirts in the campus bookstore.

It gives the illusion that paying your student-athletes for the work they do is financially impossible.

So what forces these athletes to consent to participation in a business model rigged against them, is the unlikely hope of a professional career.

The reality is, less than five percent of NCAA athletes end up playing their sport professionally.

Without the NCAA, basketball players cannot reach the NBA. There’s a rule in place to make sure of that.

Without the basketball players, there is no March Madness phenomenon that brings in millions of dollars each season.

The NCAA gets to make and keep money. The players become victims in an orchestrated exploitation that America can’t get enough of.

People will never stop watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s too exciting to take your eyes off of.

But the governing structure that subjects college students to the indentured servitude of the NCAA has developed into a racket.

And that should be something we fans should consider keeping an eye on, too.





About Dominick Mastrangelo

Dominick Mastrangelo is the Editor in Chief of Central Michigan Life. Contact him at: 


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