March Madness

My brother called yesterday and asked about March Madness. After all, it’s what everyone is talking about these days. The media has been filled with stories about how this has become a workplace issue with CBS streaming every game on line plus the broadcast coverage. Office betting pools are estimated in the hundreds of millions, a new record.

To me, though, it’s madness to be so concerned over college kids. First in the fall its football and now the focus (and pressure) is on basketball. As my kids’ fencing coach put it, they’re student athletes and there’s a reason the word student comes first.

These are people, who, in theory, should be preparing for the rest of their life, not only on the field (or court) but away from sporting world, too. Instead, with sizeable television and endorsement contracts up for grabs, colleges pay through the nose to land top notch coaches and players. The players, as has been revealed time and again, are athletes who dabble as students. Scandals about grade inflation, substitute test takers and worse hit the media at least once a year and the NCAA makes lots of noises but in the end, the top players play.

The billions CBS has paid for the rights means they expect ratings which come from exciting competitions which only exist when the players are near-professional caliber. The schools, wanting the television revenue, too, pressure the coaches to win, which trickles down to the guys actually playing the game. Recruiting becomes cut-throat and sometimes, the spotlight shines on a budding superstar who abandons his education for the short-lived career of professional athlete.

There’s the NFL and NBA for competition. Let the kids stay out of the glare just a little while longer, let them be kids and see if professional sports is really their best option. Rather than treat the college kids as their private farm system, I’d much rather see the professional leagues build minor leagues that would benefit the transition from college (or high school) to pro.

Whenever I address kids about college, I remind them it’s the last time you can try and fail something without serious repercussions. I need to amend that to note that it applies to college kids not involved in sports where failure does have consequences.

The madness to me is how much interest there is in college games.

One comment

  • Bob Ahrens

    I agree wholeheartedly… Let’s not forget the lesson of Len Bias.

    I think much of who should shoulder the blame is the networks: they have nothing else to broadcast. Football has been dead since February, Baseball doesn’t kick in until April ( televise spring training games? That’s as bad as broadcasting curling), and the NHL just doesn’t draw. Still, it’s no excuse to exploit the young athlete. I used to watch college ball because it seemed relatively un- tainted by fortune and greed. Sad to see this is no longer the case.

    Bob A