sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

I hate the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

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Is it finally over? Is it done yet? Man, do I hate the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

I probably should be more specific: I hate the hype that surrounds this thing. Basketball, of course, is a great sport, even for a wrestling-lubber like me. I catch a game or two at Drexel each winter, and it’s always fun. But the NCAA-hyped men’s tourney is to me unwatchable.

The whole stupidly alliterative framing of the event itself and the rounds. Sweet sixteen? When else do you see all this hooplah over being in the top 16 of something? “Yay! We made it to the prequarterfinals!” Horrible. I can’t believe they haven’t figured out a way to expand it backward, with some advertising link: How about the Thirsty 32 sponsored by Gatorade or the Still Firin’ 64 sponsored by the NRA?

The media celebrates the one-and-done format as if it’s unique in sports. Bah. While we do have series-type play in some big U.S. sports, most sporting contests are one-and-done. NCAA basketball doesn’t have the market cornered on it. People try to drum up additional drama by incessantly hammering that dumb point.

Then the brackets. It’s interesting, because of course everyone knows about the brackets and the gambling attached to them. But this hiding in plain sight has reversed the cause and effect: We’ve come to believe the tournament is the inherently good thing and there are these brackets people bet on associated with it. In reality, take away those damn brackets and your viewership of this amateur event plummets.

Oh, amateur. Then there’s the simple, indisputable fact that for a month or so, people obsess over the second-best men’s basketball being played in the U.S. See, we have this thing called the NBA. To valorize the NCAA over the NBA, especially considering the conditions under which the NCAA players compete – more on that in a moment – is to look in the face of total truth and respond with an abject lie.

If you wrongheadedly think NCAA basketball is better, I challenge you to watch 10 minutes of an NCAA game with me. I’ve done this with numerous people, and after having all the flaws pointed out by me – it only takes about 10 minutes to point out the clear shortcomings in college-level basketball compared to the pros — I never saw those people watch an NCAA game again. In fact, I never saw some of them again period (wait a second…).

Maybe I’m a little too angry (again!) to be taken seriously (again!). But my smart Drexel colleague, Ellen Staurowsky, wrote an Inquirer piece a few weeks ago that reminds us that this tourney exemplifies a issue she has been so eloquent about: The gross player’s rights issues with the NCAA.

Staurowsky said that as the tournament heats up, “the narrative that the March Madness athletes competing in a multibillion-dollar industry are ‘kids’ just showing up for the fun of it will kick into high gear.” How big is this overhyped monstrosity? Staurowsky says,

… the NCAA stands to earn $740 million this year from the television deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting. The economic interest in the tournament exceeds $9 billion, with more people filling out brackets than will vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election…

(Aside: More people will fill out brackets than vote? Why are so many people befuddled about Trump? Wherever you stand on him, you have to accept that considering a stat like that, it’s a democracy, people, and this is the kind of hype and hyperbole we love.)

Staurowsky points out that these athletes aren’t just “college kids” but live quite “different lives” compared to other college students. They are “assets” governed by a monolithic, money-making structure that puts before them byzantine rules under which they “work” — for free without proper “advocacy” and “knowledgeable representation.”

Maybe you think I’m just a meanie. Maybe you think I hate all this just because I’m a wrestling guy. And, you know what, I hope your bracket went well. I hope you painted your face or something. But Staurowsky reminds us, “The games are not played by ‘kids’ but by young adults who work in a system that routinely imposes decisions upon them in the best interests of the business of college sports but not in their interests as players. It also points to the fact that college sport is no game for amateurs.”

“Madness” indeed.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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One Response to “I hate the NCAA men’s basketball tournament”

  1. What is the cost of that college education those poor Division I athletes are receiving? I don’t have much sympathy for the full-ride athletes – I’id like to see the profits actually help ALL students, not just the athletically-gifted, driven ones.

    And I prefer college basketball over professional. Of course I prefer high school even more but I have always liked the underdogs. There is just more joy, more passion in a high school player than our current pros. More of them need to keep at the forefront that they are living a dream, playing a sport they love in large part because they were genetically lucky at the right time and in the right place…

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