The independent news organization of Duke University

March sadness

Last night, Duke men’s basketball faced a crushing defeat in overtime to the University of Kansas. The Jayhawks advance to the Final Four of a March Madness tournament featuring a historic upset by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Loyola University Chicago as the tournament’s Cinderella team. With over ten million viewers and close to 100 million live video streams, the NCAA’s March Madness is one of nation’s most watched sporting events. Even though the Blue Devils’ season has come to an end, the fight for a national championship continues next week in San Antonio. 

The battlefield of the tournament extends far beyond the court and March Madness. Collegiate athletics has long had to contend with the tensions existing between the two demanding, and often opposing, hyphenated roles of student-athletes, and the burden of this debate has rightfully fallen upon its governing body, the NCAA. The NCAA consists of over 1,200 institutions and nearly half a million student-athletes who elect to follow its guidelines and structures. Since its founding in 1906, the NCAA has engaged with issues of gender equity, unregulated recruiting and the “ever-growing commercialization of college sports—while...attempting to uphold the traditional values of amateurism and academic integrity.” Today, we shine a spotlight on how the NCAA and its member institutions have unabashedly profited from this commercialization of collegiate athletics, especially basketball, at the expense of student-athletes. 

In 2010, the NCAA and CBS/Turner signed a deal for rights to March Madness worth nearly 10 billion dollars over a 14-year period. Beyond the profit from television rights, sources indicate over one billion dollars are made in advertising alone. A non-profit governing body, the NCAA claims that 90 percent of its revenue is invested into college athletics and supposedly, to college athletes themselves; however, the lawyered statements of the organization are extremely misleading. Even if the NCAA provides large sums of money to schools, the schools squander the money on multi-million-dollar coaching contracts, extravagant athletic buildings and search firms to hire their prestigious and expensive coaches. Some funds directed to athletes like the student assistance fund are often misused, if not forgotten. The punchline: despite the billions of dollars made in college sports, the athletes fail to benefit from the money they generate through their labor. 

Many question the NCAA’s current structure, arguing that in trying to preserve the amateurism of student-athletes, it instead fails them. This dissatisfaction from college sports’ most prolific figures—such as Duke’s own Coach Krzyzewski—has led to heated debates about paying college athletes, especially in revenue-generating sports. Those against this solution argue that it would be economically disadvantageous as well as disastrous for the student aspect of a student-athlete’s dual role. However, the list of proponents continues to grow, including acclaimed sports journalists, academics, analysts and former athletes. Specifically, for college basketball, in this era of one-and-dones, it has become imperative to address whether the NCAA’s policies reflects a commitment to education or an unnecessary career setback for athletes. 

At a university where some tent for weeks on end to earn tickets for college basketball’s biggest rivalry, we should question whether the sporting events that bind us together exploit some of our very own classmates. The time for NCAA reform is here, and if we cannot champion the change, we should at least engage with college sports' difficult truths. Our school spirit should demand fair treatment for our classmates, both on and off the court. 

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