March Madness: Stars Earn $0, Networks Rake in a Billion Dollars

John Oliver unloads on March Madness and the hypocrisy of a billion dollar industry that doesn’t pay its most important employees a single cent in this hilarious video.

Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA claims it’s wrong to pay student athletes because that changes the notion of what college sports are all about. Oliver says that’s true if college sports are all about exploiting young people.

March Madness takes in $1 billion dollars per year. According to Oliver, that’s more than the Super Bowl, and almost more than the entire NFL post season.

March Madness is heavily branded – even the taking of the nets at the end of games is sponsored by a ladder company. Yet the players aren’t paid a cent. That’s a travesty when a player like Shabazz Napier admitted to going to bed hungry many nights because he’s unable to afford food. The players are heavily policed as well. Another player, Jamal Fender was suspended for receiving a $250 discount on the rental of a hotel ballroom. Yet another player was suspended because he let someone take him out to lunch.

march madness john oliver exploitationOliver doesn’t think much of the NCAA’s argument that the students are paid in education, which he says is “the only currency more difficult to spend than Bitcoin.” What if the players get hurt? Their education can go out the window just like that.

The players don’t have much time to study anyway. Seattle Seahawks football star Richard Sherman outlines a day in the life of a student athlete, which includes weights, classes, meetings, practice and work. He says he’d love to see a regular student try it for a semester and see what happens to their grades. Oliver says paying students in an education is like telling a registered nurse that her job has no salary attached, but that she’ll be paid in free trumpet lessons, which she won’t have time for, and she’ll be fired if she doesn’t learn to play the trumpet.

One former NCAA player, Ed O’Bannon, now works at a car dealership in Las Vegas. He said he was over at a friend’s house when the friend’s son showed him a video game that featured him as one of the players. He wasn’t paid for the video game. He has since sued the NCAA and won, though the NCAA is appealing the decision.

The NCAA argues that many schools don’t make money. Then again, they spend a lot of money on programs and infrastructure to make it look like they’re not making money, when actually they are. They build huge stadiums, luxurious spas, and spend millions on salaries for coaches. University of Kentucky coach John Calipari gets a staggering $52 million per year. Clemson Tigers student football team head coach Dabo Swinney gets $3 million per year but insists he’d quit if the players were paid, because he’s tired of the “entitlement” in today’s youth.

march madness john oliver basketballNCAA coaches are allowed to pursue endorsements, though their student players aren’t. Former University of Michigan player Jalen Rose says coaches are paid by the school, by camps, apparel companies, TV deals and radio shows. When his coach screamed at him for being distracted and asked “What’s wrong with you,” he wanted to answer that his mother’s lights were about to get cut off.

Another argument by the NCAA is that while college athletes may not get paid during college, they do get the chance to go pro and make millions afterward. Oliver says that less than 2% of college football and basketball athletes go pro. Dreams of becoming a Viking or a Wizard, he says, have as much chance of becoming real as those of becoming an actual Viking or wizard.

Oliver wraps up by saying that there’s something fundamentally wrong with paying athletes nothing while the kids selling tee shirts at the concessions stand make $10 an hour.

At the end of the video is a spoof ad for a fake NCAA video game where poor players get yelled at by middle aged millionaires and get suspended for accepting free food when they’re hungry. It’s rated “E” for “exploitative.”