This weekend, the Final Four of both the Women's and Men's NCAA basketball tournaments will garner the collective attention of sports fans across the country. Brackets will be busted, nets will be cut down, and two champions will ultimately be crowned.
But while those teams are celebrating a national title, the real winners of the tournaments may be their corporate sponsors, broadcasters and ultimately, the NCAA itself.
The NCAA basketball tournaments, or "March Madness," have become a huge business. As Forbes' Chris Smith wrote, CBS and Turner Broadcasting make more than $1 billion off the games, "thanks in part to a $700,000 ad rate for a 30-second spot during the Final Four." Athletic conferences receive millions of dollars in payouts from the NCAA when their teams advance deep into the tournament. Ditto for the coaches of the final squads standing. The NCAA, as a whole, makes $6 billion annually.
But the players themselves don't see any of that money, even as they risk career-ending injuries every time that they step onto the court, field or rink. Just last weekend, Louisville's Kevin Ware suffered a gruesome broken leg (but successfully had surgery that will enable him to return to playing eventually).
The huge amount of money being made off college sports has led some to question whether student-athletes can be considered amateurs any longer, and whether they should, instead, be paid for their efforts. The New York Times' Joe Nocera has been beating the drum to reform the NCAA, and he is certainly not alone. A group of former players has filed an antitrust lawsuit alleging that student athletes are entitled to some of the money the NCAA makes off of using their names and likenesses on merchandise such as jerseys and video games.
But on the flip side, the argument can be made that the opportunity to both receive an education and get the exposure to win a major professional contract more than compensates NCAA athletes for their efforts. "Rather than push college athletics further and further from academics, we need to bring it closer," says NCAA president Mike Emmert.
So should NCAA athletes be paid? Here's the Debate Club's take:
Brian Frederick Board Member of Sports Fans Coalition
Bobby Rush Democratic Representative from Illinois
Richard Burton Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University