It’s one of the most gripping rites of spring. The switch to daylight saving time? Nope. The onset of seasonal allergies? Nah.
We’re talking March Madness, the NCAA’s college basketball tournament. It’s a glorious couple of weeks during which almost everyone – except maybe your great aunt – becomes an expert on college basketball. Across the country, millions of people will participate in March Madness office pools, filling out brackets and laying down cash. And according to outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., employees’ monitoring of their bracket’s progress will contribute to an estimated $2.3 billion in lost productivity during the tournament.
March Madness is big business. Some $10 billion will be wagered on this year’s tournament, of which only about $300 million will be done legally via sports books in Las Vegas, according to the American Gaming Association. The NCAA will get paid $8.8 billion by CBS Sports and the Turner cable sports networks for the broadcast rights for the tournament through 2032. The cities and venues that host the various rounds of the tournament also realize massive economic windfalls, as do their hotels and restaurants.
And, of course, the coaches of big-time college sports programs make money. Lots of it. For example, Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban – with six national championships to his name – will be paid just over $11 million this year and is the highest paid coach in all of college athletics. In basketball, the current top earner is Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski. Since 1980, “Coach K” has led the Blue Devils to five NCAA championships and will be paid $5.5 million this year for his efforts. (Duke, with a 26-7 record, is the number two seed in the NCAA Midwest bracket this year.) Another “fun fact:” the three highest paid state employees in Maryland are the coaches of the University of Maryland’s men’s basketball, football and women’s basketball teams, respectively.
Where’s the Fairness?
But there’s one group that doesn’t rake in the cash from March Madness or other college athletics: the student athletes who actually play the games that generate those billions of dollars. NCAA eligibility rules prohibit student athletes from being paid. They also cannot be paid for endorsements. Elite college athletes often are recipients of athletic scholarships, their ticket to the opportunity for a college education. But the overwhelming majority of college athletes, including “walk-ons” who try out and make a team based on their demonstrated talent, play purely for their love of the sport. They’re fully aware they never will parlay their college careers into a professional sports career. (According to the NCAA, only 1.1 percent of men’s basketball players and just 1.5 percent of football players stand any chance of making it to the pros.)