I love March Madness. It’s so ridiculous, yet a wonderful embodiment of all the best things about college sports. Excitement, upsets, passion and genuine emotion — joy and despair in equal measure. Without emotion, sports are pointless. The swings and runs in the first two rounds of games this past weekend gave me endless excitement. Things started well. I was a perfect 13-0 to start my bracket, using my tried-and-tested method of picking winners based on school colours, mascots and my general biases toward and against various schools.
Then it all went downhill. FSU beat FGCU, a travesty for fans of high-flying dunk action. The Nevada Wolf Pack (best mascot name in the entire tournament) fell to the Iowa State Cyclones. I refuse to root for any team from Iowa. Ever. And then the next day, SMU, one of my final four teams, decided to choke against USC. This just tells me I should never cheer for a Texas team other than Trinity. They’ll only let me down … Every year I pick a 16 seed to upset a number 1 seed. Call me hopeless, but I want to see the greatest upset in the history of college basketball. Kansas, this year’s victim, decided to beat UC-Davis by 38 … maybe next year! But, as it stands, I’m doing alright. My bracket is still alive thanks to my championship pick Oregon’s huge fightback versus Rhode Island on Sunday evening. We still believe! Go Ducks.
But all the excitement and fun I get from this tournament is tempered by my frustration with the Institution itself. This might sound strange, given that I’m a proud intercollegiate athlete, but the single biggest problem in collegiate athletics today is the NCAA. The organisation is so focused on generating money for itself that it neglects to recognise that it is nothing without the athletes who sacrifice so much to compete for their universities. The entire Trinity community was left speechless a few weeks ago when our women’s basketball team, who were 26-1, was sent on the road to UT Dallas as opposed to being allowed to host the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament play. Look, I know that Division I is a bigger deal than Division III, there’s no disputing that. But surely it’s beneficial for everyone to use the success of Division I to improve the reputation and standing of Division II and III? How much money does the NCAA make off the men’s March Madness tournament every year? An astronomical amount. Therefore, it really angers me when they neglect to spend a little money to fly a team into San Antonio and allow the rightful number one seed to host. This is a constant issue with Trinity sports teams, being penalised for not always having other nationally ranked teams located close to us.
And yet still the NCAA ticks on, making its money and devising its own rules and regulations. The debate about whether or not athletes playing big Division I sports should be paid or not continues to rage. I’ve always been of the opinion that no, they shouldn’t, but Dr. Jacob Tingle made some very valid points in a conversation we had this weekend. The NCAA is able to profit off the likenesses of these athletes, selling their name and image to a video game, which generates profit for the corporation. The universities themselves can sell T-shirts and other merchandise with a player’s name and number on the back, yet the player themselves gains no legal revenue from this. I think back to Johnny Manziel at the height of his A&M fame, or Tim Tebow before that.
The NCAA has set up a monopoly on college sports in the USA that will likely never be overturned or changed. I love the intercollegiate athletics system in America, and think the world on the whole could learn a lot from it. But it’s not perfect. The NCAA needs to be more human and understanding. Not all players from Division I schools go on to have six- or seven-figure contracts in the NFL and NBA. Why not allow them some revenue from their team’s merchandise successes to go to the athletes? Why not let them earn some money for their likeness and name being in a video game? March Madness is wonderful and seems to be sport in its purest form. Yet the true madness is the nonsense that the NCAA is polluting the system with. The NCAA should take the initiative in reconciling the inequalities between the collegiate sports they sponsor. Whether this is male versus female, or Division I versus III, I think the NCAA has to do more, and should be held accountable until they do.