In less than 24 hours, 68 teams will begin battling it out in an isolated bubble in Indianapolis in the NCAA Tournament. March Madness is nearly upon us. The yearly event earns the NCAA and its member universities a little over a billion dollars, a majority of the NCAA’s overall revenue.
Fans love filling out their brackets and watching the surplus of games throughout the three-week event. Universities and conferences enjoy their big checks.
But the players — advertised as the Tournament’s main attraction — don’t see a dime of all the money they make for the NCAA and their schools. They’re told that playing in the tournament is reward enough, and sent off to eat their watery eggs in silence.
For decades, the debate over paying student-athletes has been center stage in state and federal governments, on television and online, in the courtroom and, of course, all over social media. For a while, the conversation rarely made any significant movement for reform.
Finally, in 2019, multiple states — first and perhaps most notably California — passed legislation allowing student-athletes to be paid for their efforts on the court and field. The NCAA was ultimately left with no choice but to adopt the proposal to allow student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness.
“It’s a right that’s afforded to any other student in any other program at the University,” Michigan Board of Regent Jordan Acker told The Daily. “The restriction is arbitrary. It’s capricious. It doesn’t help the institution. It doesn’t really help anyone at this point.”
The NCAA asked Congress to help write out the actual legislation, nearly two years ago. In January 2020, they pushed the deadline back to July of this year.
The delay is worrisome, as more and more states are passing legislation, including Michigan, which passed its version of the bill in December.
“I think ultimately the right approach is a national model,” Acker said. “Now, am I frustrated that its taken to 2021 to get this right? Sure, a little bit. But I think one of the very few positive effects of this pandemic — and there are like I said very few — is that it has ripped the bandaid in regards to NIL with college athletics.”
The delay can be frustrating, especially for the ones that are now putting their health on the line in more ways than usual to compete for their schools — and make money for the NCAA — during a global pandemic.
Still, the NCAA’s most valuable asset will not benefit from the billion dollar event. Yesterday, voicing their continued frustration, a number of well-known college basketball players — including Michigan senior forward Isaiah Livers — began tweeting out the hashtag, “#NotNCAAProperty.”
Added Rutgers senior guard Geo Baker: “The NCAA OWNS my name image and likeness. Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For ppl who say ‘an athletic scholarship is enough.’ Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am #NotNCAAProperty”
A statement was released by the National College Players Association with a list of demands later last night:
The sudden outrage from players comes as something of a surprise, being a day away from the start of one of the biggest tournaments in sports. It also drew criticism that the players should just be happy that they can play this year. But during the pandemic, student-athletes have been more vocal than ever about issues ranging from social justice and Black Lives Matter to the reality of competing in the time of COVID-19.
They have not held back on voicing their opinions on the conflicting nature of playing sports right now. Back in December, Isaiah Livers voiced his unhappiness about playing on Christmas Day.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to get started on that right now,” Livers said. “We’re all not too excited about that. No knock against Nebraska, but Christmas Day, I don’t think anyone wants to travel away from their place. That’s a different story — we’re not gonna go into college athletes not being paid.”
The unrest will continue, as we saw yesterday. But, the tournament will go on, assuming the protest doesn’t go further.
The most likely result will be a continuation of what has been the norm. Student-athletes will advocate for themselves, debate will continue in the media and in the living rooms and the NCAA will remain the powerhouse it is.
As we’ve seen, the NCAA finally accepted the principle that student-athletes can be rewarded for their name, image and likeness. But, the biggest question remains:
When will those rules finally be passed, and what will they look like?
For now, 68 teams of unpaid performers will take the main stage, isolated in a bubble, competing for a championship and generating money they’ll never see.
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