On the Bench: The Madness of March Madness

This year, March Madness kicks off on March 17. That means for three weeks, division I college basketball players from the best teams in the NCAA will compete for the title of National Champions. There are many debates about college basketball and its athletes in the media. Mainly if they are taken advantage of or if they should be paid for their time as college athletes. Both of the positions of these debates have merit but at the end of the day, these athletes are still students at their respective universities earning a college degree. The pressure of March Madness on the athletes, coaches and support staff of these teams is too much to handle and too much to ask from a student with high risk for no guarantee of possible rewards.

March Madness is the NCAA’s next cash-cow, second to division I football. According to Nasdaq, Time Warner Cable and CBS’s new contracts with the NCAA for broadcasting rights average at  $1.1 billion each season and will extend into 2032. In 2017, the NCAA pulled in $1.06 billion which includes ticket sales, marketing rights deals and tournament broadcasts. This money is said to be used to fund scholarships, medical insurance, travel expenses and other programs.

This isn’t exactly chump change. College athletes are at the center of all of this money and their performance in these tournament games can make a difference in the revenue that the NCAA produce and the future funds that their individual program might earn for the next year. Marketing, branding and even travel and medical expenses for the athletes all hang in the balance of an outcome of a good game versus a bad or even boring game. If a team loses and doesn’t have a strong reputation, they can expect to not see much money and dedication designated to their team or even cost them looks from professional scouts. If they have a good season and decent tournament play, their program can make some more money, get better brand and marketing deals and maybe have their hat in the running for the draft when they graduate. All depending on a few weeks of games that are on a national stage.

Public ridicule is another pressure that these athletes face. The viewers of March Madness are known to bet on games and brackets, all predicting who might win or what team will do well in the tournament. According to an ESPN, 24 million Americans bet on the NCAA tournament in pools and spending an estimated $2.6 billion in entry fees let alone other illegal betting rings and small family or work-related betting pools. Gambling is known to be a game of chance but for the athletes and the supporters of these teams, they might throw hard earned money down to support these athletes. If these athletes mess up, have a bad game, injure themselves or lose against a pivotal team, they won’t only lose money that can lose support of the public.

Personally, putting myself in the shoes of an athlete competing in March Madness, I don’t know how they can manage. Luckily, I don’t have the talent to worry about it but from my experience of knowing athletes in division II athletics, it’s stressful to keep up with grades and their games and practice and they don’t even have to worry that one wrong move might ruin their future.

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