NCAA Tournament 2012: Times columnists makes case for paying players

The Takeaway

There’s a lot of money to be made off March Madness.

At $122 billion, the amount of spending the NCAA’s annual men’s basketball tournament generates is equal to Iceland’s GDP. That total includes $614 million in TV advertising, $300 million in NCAA merchandise, and $185 million in corporate sponsorship.

But not a dime of that money goes to paying the athletes — though certainly a lot of it covers their scholarships, and travel to the games.

Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times, said he’s become obsessed with the fact that players aren’t paid.

“The economics of the NCAA, it’s worth pointing out, they get no money for football because the colleges won an anti-trust suit back in the 1980s, giving themselves the rights to the money from football,” Nocera admitted. “The vast, vast majority of what the NCAA makes for itself, for its own organization, comes in the space of three weeks.”

They’ll pocket $800 million, essentially, in three weeks. That money in essence allows the NCAA to fund all the rest of its championships and its overheard the entire rest of the year.

Nocera argues that doesn’t really change the fact that the NCAA is built on unpaid employees — who work 50 hours or more a week; don’t often graduate, at least in the money-making sports; and just a tiny handful have a chance to convert their free labor in college into a paying job as a professional athlete.

“I’m a huge believer in the idea they should have due process when they get in trouble with the NCAA,” Nocera added. “I think 90 percent of the NCAA rules should be eliminated.”

He cited the example of K-State player Jamar Samuels, who was suspended 20 minutes before his school’s NCAA tournament game for receiving $200 from his former AAU coach. Samuels said he needed the money for his mom to pay for food.

“The NCAA has rules that are completely above and beyond the university rules. The kids have no standing when they get in trouble. The whole thing is ridiculous,” he said. “I also think there should be a six-year scholarship. If you’re not going to pay the players, let’s ensure they get an education. One of the ways to do that is to give them time to actually study and care about their classroom work after their eligibility has expired.”

Universities say they can’t afford something like that — though Nocera pointed out they manage to afford millions of dollars for coaches.

“One of the reasons they spend all this money on everything else, facilities, look at the stadiums they play in and the practice facilities…half the reason they spend the money on everything else is they’re not spending it on the players,” Nocera said.

But not just all athletes should necessarily be paid, Nocera said. With football and men’s basketball, the players make such amounts of money for the universities, they’re in an entirely different class, Nocera argued, than the other sports.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.