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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

The NCAA tournament is all about money.

The huge madness of March Madness


Ka-ching!

The sound of March Madness. Not, "Go Badgers!" Not, "We are Marquette!"

Ka-ching!

The NCAA makes millions. The television networks make millions. The schools make millions. Sports bars make thousands and thousands. T-shirt makers make hundreds of thousands. Ticketmaster makes hundreds of thousands. Hotels make thousands. Taxis make hundreds.

Ka-ching.

The men/boys who put it all out on the floor, every second of every game, who give up their hearts and souls, who cry when they win and cry when they lose, who keep on when they are hurting, who jump to the sky and dive to the floor, who give us chills and thrills -- how about them?

Zip! Zilch! Nada! Nothing! Thanks a lot! Now, go back to class!

The fact that everybody makes lots of money except these young athletes is being widely trumpeted as another brick or two in the building of the case to pay these athletes who make so much money for everybody else. The folks in favor of paying these kids have lots of arguments, including the one that if they get paid the athletes would be far less likely to break rules and take illegal payments and gifts.

The trumpets have sounded on this one and the hordes are building momentum to pay these athletes. People are trying to answer questions like: How much should each player get? And do all players get the same amount or do the stars get more? Do we peg their pay to their scoring average or number of tackles or interceptions? Do players get a raise every year?

This whole thing absolutely disgusts me. Here we are, trying to figure out how to take what is supposed to be an amateur sport and turn it professional, complete with pay scales, fee for service, performance standards and, presumably, bonuses for outstanding play.

Rather than put all our time and effort into figuring out how to get money into the hands of these players, why don't we try to return to the days when college sports were truly amateur sports.

I know this is kind of like trying to put the genie back in the bottle, but I don't think it would require all that many changes to make it happen.

Ralph Nader, that ancient consumer advocate, has a good start by making the suggestion that we eliminate all athletic scholarships. By moving all awards to need based scholarships college athletics would be treated like the rest of the student body. Anybody who thinks that athletic scholarships aren't a form of payment are missing a link or two.

Nader points out that even Walter Byers, NCAA executive director from 1951 to 1987, is now calling for the banning of the athletic scholarship. Byers persuasively argues that assistance to athletes should be based on financial need and academic talents -- not athletic ability. He also says the financial aid office should control the renewal of funds -- not the athletic department -- as is the case with any other student.

Nader also argues that eliminating athletic scholarships would get rid of all the excesses at the lower level of athletics. Think of the parents who spend thousands of dollars on private coaching, special camps and the best in equipment and travel for kids who want to be big time college athletes. The high pressure, win-at-all-costs mentality that permeates our youth and high school sports programs is often "justified" as the price necessary to earn a college scholarship, Nader says. An entire industry has developed in the youth sports to prey on families' dreams of an athletic scholarship. The lure of the elusive athletic scholarship is the primary -- sometimes the only -- marketing tool these youth sports entrepreneurs use.

The other thing I'd add to these reforms, which are really pretty simple, is a restoration of the first year rule, whereby a student has to spend one year in college before he or she can compete in sports. We'd get rid of the "one and done" practice of basketball players who use one year of stardom at a college to get ready for, and entice, professional basketball teams.

I don't hold out much hope that any of these reforms are actually going to come to pass. But as the debate about paying athletes rages, I think adding the other side of that coin, a return to true amateur sports, ought to be in play.

What this really needs is for some national lawmaker to grab this issue and run with it. How about a United States Senator who has more than a nodding acquaintance with the world of big-time athletics.

Sen. Kohl, are you listening?

Talkbacks

Broner | March 30, 2011 at 9:20 a.m. (report)

Most weeks, I can read a Dave Begel column and quickly fire off a witty talkback (ok, maybe Im the only one who finds my responses witty but I amuse myself). This week, however, Ive had to read it several times just to figure out what the heck hes writing about. First, he starts by discussing how everyone profits from major college sports except for the players. While this is good for the economy, it does seem wrong that the very people who entertain us dont profit aside from the free education. I certainly would not have a problem paying these athletes but do concede the figuring out the proper way to do it would be complex and would lead to another whole set of problems. But getting back to the article, it is very misguided to think that were going to turn back the clock to the days of nuthugging shorts, wooden backboards, set shots, and Dave Begel relevancy to pure amateur athletics. Those days are long gone. Look at the pure amateur athletics outside of the NCAA. The best athletes make millions in endorsements and even the very good ones often have deals with Nike, Adidas, Reebok, etc. that pay them livable wages and provide them with apparel for training and competition. As far as banning athletic scholarships, that isnt a good idea. First, a lot of these athletes would not end up going to school at all. A lot of them dont take advantage of the educational opportunity presented to them but others who would otherwise not have the opportunity do get their educations. Second, the competition levels would significantly drop which would decrease interest and therefore the revenues generated. In this economy, do we really want to see jobs related to these athletics dry up? Third, instituting a no play the first year rule would punish the best basketball players in particular. The ones good enough to go pro wouldnt attend school at all. The NBA, not the NCAA, instituted the rule that doesnt allow high school players to go pro until right out of high school. These guys will find other outlets to hone their skills rather than sitting on the bench watching. Last, while there are problems with the current system, getting the government involved would not be a good idea. Herb Kohl should have better things to do with his time than turning back the clock to a time that no one besides a few fossils want. So while there are issues with NCAA athletics, as usual, Dave Begel doesnt have the right answers.

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Slugworth | March 29, 2011 at 9:20 a.m. (report)

...and how many poor athletes will be shut out of college under your system?

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sandstorm | March 29, 2011 at 7:19 a.m. (report)

why can't college be considered a training ground for future professional athletes the same as it is for scientists? isn't a career in football still a career? if there are academic scholarships why shouldn't there be athletic scholarships?

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