On the Hard Woods With Joe Grump

It’s March Madness. You know what’s really madness? Not paying the players.

This is another in an occasional Sunday series with our sports columnist, Joe Grump. Joe scours the sports pages and then pummels you with his insights. It’s best just to nod in silent agreement. If you engage, it will only encourage him.

By Joe Grump

Well, it’s that time of year again, sports fans. March Madness. Or, as I like to call it, Money Machine Madness.

I’d talk about my brackets, but they got trashed. Literally. I went through all the trouble of filling them out — I had Oral Roberts beating Ohio State, I swear it! — but then, I don’t know, I couldn’t find it. CBS had no record of me. I must have not hit “save” or something. Whatever. It happens. In fact, it happens all the time. Just when I got used to fax machines they started all this stuff with digital this and that. Whatever happened to paper?

Joe lost his bracket somewhere in digital space. He picked Oral Roberts.

But I digress. Let’s talk green paper. Cash money. The annual tourney churns out a cool billion dollars a year for the NCAA. And how much of that do the players get? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Oh, sure, you could have a tournament without players. Jim Nance could describe the smell of the varnish on the floor for a couple of hours. Charles Barkley could admit that he knows nothing about half the teams that aren’t playing. That’d be fun.

And you know what really dunks my bucket? The gosh darn NCAA self-promotion commercials. The one that really tips me off is the blather about 98% of college athletes going pro in something other than sports.

What utter B.S. That whole thing is designed to put you off the scent of the real stink in college sports. The big wigs in the NCAA and their member schools want you to think of the guys playing big time college hoops in the same light as a women’s la crosse team. In reality, there’s no comparison at all.

The la crosse team? Yeah, alright, they are real “student-freakin’-athletes.” I got no problem with that. They go to school and they play sports as an add on. Positive activity. Builds teamwork and character. Fine. Got it.

But the athletes (who might be students or not) who are playing in front of millions of people on a TV audience that is producing billions of dollars for everybody else? Sorry, but no matter how smart any of them might be, they are NOT “student-athletes.” They’re athletes who might be students.

This is bad enough when it comes to college football, but it particularly sounds my buzzer when it comes to basketball. Why? Because college basketball has something called “one and done.” Whole teams are built around the idea of bringing in a player for one year, just so he can polish his resume for the NBA, which has a rule that says a kid has to wait a year after high school before he can play there. So, how is that kid a “student-athlete?” This just highlights the whole big lie of “student-athletes” when it comes to those guys who are playing the big money producing sports for their schools.

Oh, and by the way, that billion dollars I was talking about? That’s just the money that goes to the NCAA and flows back to the schools in the tournament. (The NCAA only keeps 4% of it, but don’t let that make you feel good about those guys. Mark Emmert, who runs the thing, made $4 million in 2018 and, no doubt, more this year.) But what about everybody else feeding at the trough? CBS and Turner didn’t spend $850 million this year for the TV rights only so they could provide entertainment to the masses. Oh no. They’ll charge something over $910 million for the ads.

So, the TV excecs will walk away with at least a cool $60 million this year. Did I mention earlier in this broadcast how much the players will pocket? Let me see here. Take a billion, subtract the transect, square by my foot, divide by seven, multiply by Oprah’s take on the royal’s interview and, oh, I got it! That works out to exactly zero.

And then there’s all the merchandise, shoes and whatnots that get sold through Madness marketing. How much do the players get, even from tee shirts that might picture them? You got it. Nothing. The NCAA is dragging its feet over rules that would allow players to at least get something when their own image shows up on a poster, for cryin’ out loud. But ya know, it’s going to take years for the NCAA to figure out all the important intricacies of how to police that. My guess is that they’ll be able to negotiate a nice increase in Mark Emmert’s contract a couple of more times before they get around to working that one out.

And, please, don’t give me that baloney about the value of a scholarship. Room and board plus tuition at the UW comes to about $25,000 a year. Seriously? Twenty-five grand when Emmert is making $4 million? When Greg Gard is making $2.25 million? When your average assistant coach and athletic department bureaucrat is pulling down well into the six figures? Seriously, you want to talk about $25K?

To make it crystal clear, I’ve got nothing against the coaches making a bundle. They contribute to the quality of the game and they’re just taking whatever the market will give them. So, why shouldn’t it work that way for the guys who are actually scoring the points and getting the rebounds? For that matter, now that I think about it, why shouldn’t it work like that for Mark Emmert? Pay him what he’s worth. If the Democrats get their way, that’ll be $15 an hour in a few years!

Maybe this will change sooner than I thought. Uncle Joe Biden’s Justice Department is weighing in on the side of the players in a suit before the Supreme Court.

Joe gets it. Why is this is so hard, people? Pay the damn players!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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