March Mad­ness and non­profit that man­ages the may­hem?

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Opinion - By Jay L. Zagorsky The Con­ver­sa­tion is an in­de­pen­dent and non­profit source of news, anal­y­sis and com­men­tary from aca­demic ex­perts.

The an­nual col­lege bas­ket­ball spec­ta­cle known as March Mad­ness has ar­rived.

Mil­lions of peo­ple will tune in to the three-week tour­na­ment to see who’s the best team in the U.S. And mil­lions more will wager a few bucks to take part in an of­fice pool in which they try to pick the win­ner. Even pres­i­dents have been known to take part in the mad­ness.

But be­hind the hype is a lot of cash. Just as jour­nal­ists are trained to fol­low the money, so are econ­o­mists like me. So let’s take a closer look.

March Mad­ness is a sin­gle-elim­i­na­tion tour­na­ment in which ath­letes from 68 Di­vi­sion I teams com­pete in seven rounds. The tour­na­ment be­gins with a bracket draw, held on March 11, and then dwin­dles down to the Sweet Six­teen, the Elite Eight, the Fi­nal Four and the cham­pi­onship game in San An­to­nio on April 2.

The non­profit Na­tional Col­le­giate Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion, or NCAA, formed the tour­na­ment in 1939, when just eight teams com­peted.

While the phrase “March Mad­ness” was first coined in Illi­nois in 1939 to de­scribe its state high school bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment, it wasn’t used for the col­le­giate gath­er­ing un­til 1982.

Per­haps more in­ter­est­ing than the tour­na­ment it­self is the or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs it.

The NCAA gen­er­ates a huge amount of money, tak­ing in al­most $1 bil­lion a year.

The vast ma­jor­ity comes from March Mad­ness and the tele­vi­sion and mar­ket­ing rev­enue it gen­er­ates.

Cur­rent NCAA President Mark Em­mert earns over $1.9 mil­lion a year, more than ev­ery pub­lic col­lege president and all but 11 pri­vate school lead­ers.

His salary, how­ever, is eas­ily eclipsed by col­lege coaches. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski earns $8.98 mil­lion a year, and at least 49 oth­ers make more than Em­mert.

By com­par­i­son, the univer­sity pro­fes­sors who ed­u­cate these stu­dent ath­letes - the pur­pose of col­lege af­ter all - earn a frac­tion of the salaries of the coaches and Em­mert.

A full pro­fes­sor at a pub­lic doc­toral in­sti­tu­tion earned an av­er­age of $126,000 in 2016.

The NCAA states that it helps more than 480,000 stu­dent ath­letes “suc­ceed on the play­ing field, in the class­room and through­out life.”

As such, it touches the lives of more stu­dents than even the big­gest univer­sity in the coun­try, the Univer­sity of Phoenix, which ed­u­cates 195,000.

As part of its mis­sion, the as­so­ci­a­tion claims 87 per­cent of its stu­dent ath­letes earn de­grees within six years, up from 74 per­cent in 2002 and far bet­ter than the 60 per­cent rate among com­pa­ra­ble full-time un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents.

For bas­ket­ball play­ers com­pet­ing in March Mad­ness, how­ever, the per­cent­age is quite a bit lower, with just 76 per­cent of the male ath­letes grad­u­at­ing in six years. The rate is higher for women bas­ket­ball play­ers, at 90 per­cent.

One of the rea­sons for this is that stu­dent ath­letes must be fairly bright to be­gin with, with a high school GPA of at least 2.3.

And in col­lege, they get an in­cred­i­ble amount of sup­port, guid­ance and su­per­vi­sion that en­sures they keep up with their cour­ses and take ex­ams while com­pet­ing.

Hon­estly, I’m not sure why an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to set­ting rules and host­ing cham­pi­onship tour­na­ments needs so much in­come.

While the NCAA de­clares it “fi­nan­cially as­sists stu­dent ath­letes in need of ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als, cloth­ing and emer­gency travel ex­penses,” its 2014 tax form shows it pro­vided in­di­vid­u­als with only $21,049 to­tal in grants and other as­sis­tance and noth­ing in 2015.

While the NCAA says vir­tu­ally all the money it col­lects it sends back to schools and ath­let­ics con­fer­ences, it still keeps quite a bit in most years as profit, usu­ally around $35 mil­lion.

As a re­sult, the NCAA has slightly more than $300 mil­lion in the bank.

For com­par­i­son, this is larger than half of all univer­sity en­dow­ments in the U.S.

The NCAA used to claim its pri­mary pur­pose was to “main­tain in­ter­col­le­giate ath­let­ics as an in­te­gral part of the ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram.”

To­day, in my view, the NCAA seems more fo­cused on sell­ing of­fi­cial gear in its cham­pi­onship store, of­fer­ing live apps for con­tin­u­ous con­nec­tiv­ity and prompt­ing bracket ma­nia for gam­blers.

While I no longer fill in a bracket, I will be plop­ping down on my couch like mil­lions of other Amer­i­cans to fol­low the tour­na­ment - and in my case root on the stu­dent ath­letes play­ing for the Ohio State Buck­eyes.

All the same, I believe March Mad­ness has noth­ing to do with ed­u­ca­tion and a great deal to do with mar­ket­ing. And that’s fine, it’s just like the NFL play­offs or the MLB’s World Se­ries. Ex­cept per­versely, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs March Mad­ness gets tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.