Are You Being Exploited By March Madness?
Nathaniel Friedman

Athletes Are More Than Mere Students

Excellent work, as always.

Personally, I do find it difficult to rectify the fun of brackets and Cinderellas and upsets with the image of old, rich men making millions of dollars while sacrificing very little. If a player gets hurt or his draft status is damaged, it doesn’t hurt the administrators. There is a bottomless pit of kids just waiting to fill the holes on the roster. Didn’t win the tournament this year? We’ll get some five-star recruits and will be better next year.

It is the modern equivalent of the Roman Colosseum gladiatorial contests, just that instead of being eaten by lions, the losers fade into a life of broken dreams and unanswerable questions.

As a fan, it’s much easier to not think about it or to think about it only in terms that have a warming afterglow. It’s more enjoyable to think about the players that made a name for themselves in the tournament. We remember players like Danny Manning and Dwyane Wade carrying their teams to the Final Four or Steph Curry make his first appearance in the national consciousness in March because these stories help us excuse what happens. It allows us to point to the (rare) success story as proof that this situation is not only defensible, but that it should be lauded.

The biggest problem is the people that claim that these big-time athletes are being paid. “They’re getting an education!” they scream, often following it with something like, “You know, I would’ve killed to have gone to school for free!” But it’s not free. They still pay, just not with money. Their bodies are their currency. They are laborers. Athletes have a normal college course load that they have to manage around practices, games, film study, and everything else.

If they get hurt, they lose their currency and, as a result, they lose their scholarship.

Let’s be honest —many of the college basketball (and football) coaches at big time D1 schools, many of whom are the highest-paid state employees, only care about a student’s academic record to the point where it keeps them eligible. No one is getting a recruit to sign by showing him a list of electives that the school offers.

Why not? Well, if a coach can’t get the best recruits, he can’t win games. And if he can’t win games, he’ll be fired. And they’ll hope to replace him with a coach that can recruit and can win games, even if it means putting academics second.

Critics claim that players should realize that only a small fraction of them will make it the professional level, so they should forget what they’ve been told for the majority of their lives — that they should focus exclusively on developing their skills so that they’ll one day be good enough to be a NBA player — and begin planning for their lives after basketball.

What 19-year-old plans for the future? Even the most successful people I know weren’t sitting around at 19, thinking about how their lives were going to be when they were 40, mapping out development plans. They were partying or taking a nap.

While the school’s athletes were at practice.

Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. See more at his site or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.