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NCAA March Madness and Its Social Implications
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NCAA March Madness and Its Social Implications

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It is difficult for me to admit this harsh fact, but American basketball is more of the people’s game in the United States than Football (known as ‘soccer’ in the United States) which is rightfully the greatest of all sports known around the world. The endless run of basketball ball and the colorful shoes in the light and shadow of the college and university auditoriums, with their glossy, wooden basketball courts, is one of ecstasy and despair.  On television screens in families’ homes or in sports bars in American cities and towns, one can see the various enthusiastic emotions on the people’s faces as they watch with intensity the opposing players, whether they be from famous basketball teams like those of Tennessee, Ohio, Wichita, St. Louis or North Carolina or from the smaller teams that are unknown like the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, a great, working class basketball team from New Jersey.  There is even with all the continuous corruption scandals that have dogged the sport on the American college and university campus an opium of gratification that for a while diminishes in one’s life the continuous unsettled, political scores and acts of violence that is America.

The corruption that I speak about in American college basketball is both tragic and obscene, because it is the basketball player in all his naiveté that becomes the victim and pawn in the manner of money bribes and payoffs regarding his creativity as a sportsman.  In January 2019, as reported by the sports writer, Mack Schlabach “A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss federal criminal charges against former Auburn basketball assistant Chuck Person and former NBA referee Rashan Michel, who are accused of accepting bribes to steer players to certain financial advisers and agents once they turned pro.”[i], and this included the young basketball players families as well in the corruption. As the reporter went on to state “Person is also accused of helping facilitate money to players' families. The government alleges he provided $11,000 to one player's family and $7,500 to another.”[ii]  It should be understood that many families whose sons are fortunate enough to acquire a basketball scholarship not only have great aspirations for their sons, but they also have in their minds that their sons through the great sport of basketball will mobilize them upwards as far as social class and economic wealth is concern. 

The ugliness of the corrupted milieu that has become a part of American college and university basketball became more odious when it was reported in October of 2018 by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, who writes for the website INSIDE HIGHER ED that, “two Adidas employees and an aspiring agent were found guilty of fraud charges in connection with the payoff scheme. Federal prosecutors successfully argued that universities, namely the University of Louisville and University of Kansas, were victimized. On the surface, that rationale may strike some observers as odd, given that the institutions' teams (and their finances) clearly benefited from these top players. But these universities gave scholarships to ineligible players and now face possible NCAA sanctions, which was enough to persuade jurors that they had been harmed. The trial, and other recent developments in the big-time sports world, challenge the status quo and leave many athletics experts questioning what the association will do next. [iii] The corporate employees of the famous sports company, Adidas, and an aggressive sport agent were coupled in crime with basketball players who most likely had academic problems or anti-social personal problems which curtailed their eligibility to play college or university basketball. Such a sport scenario reveals a greediness for profit by sports corporations at the expense of young basketball players whose basketball court creativity is the only way they see as way to come out of a life of hard drudgery in an unemployed existence.

In an interview about the scandalous and tragic, hidden ways of college and university basketball in America, the sportswriter, Michael Sokolove, in an exchange with an interviewer on NPR (National Public Radio) states a harsh, factual indictment of American basketball among the university youth:

Well, Mike Sokolove, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, any enterprise that generates large sums of money can be beset by corruption. How much money does college basketball generate?

MICHAEL SOKOLOVE: Well, billions. I mean, it really depends on how you calculate it, but directly to the universities and to the NCAA, billions. But if you figure in the gambling money, and money that's generated by recruiting sites and all these crazy ways, you know, you're getting into the four, or five or $6 billion a year.

DAVIES: Right. And where does the money go?

SOKOLOVE: The money largely goes to the adults who run the games. Very little of it goes to the players. The players get the value of their scholarships. So if you look at a program like Louisville, which is a program that I focused on, they generate about $45 million a year in revenue. They give out 13 scholarships. That adds up to about $400,000 a year. The rest of it gets spread out to the coach, who makes $8 million a year, to the assistant coaches, who make as much as a half-million dollars a year. All throughout out the athletic department, people are making six-figure salaries. It does not go to the players, what I call the unpaid workforce.[iv] The “unpaid workforce” that the sportswriter mentions in almost an almost afterthought way does not describe enough the deeper character of the players whose love for life is in the dedication they have for the sport of basketball, in their deepest of bond with their teammates, and in how they become a part of the community with the people in the large auditorium basketball arenas, who come to see them play, and whose defeats and victories becomes a talisman or emblem of their own lives.

As I am writing these last words on my thoughts on March Madness on a cold night in Vermont, I like millions of others, am watching one of the first games of the NCCA Men’s Championship Tournament. I am transfixed, and even amazed if not quietly shocked at the innocence, the strength of character and fighting spirit that can be seen on American basketball courts. I only wished such sports’ elain and creativity, as was displayed by Belmont who beat Temple, were imitated by American footballers, who are entrapped by economic class restrictions and racial prejudices on the pitch as orchestrated by the corporate MLS league, which in turn makes the people’s sport a bridesmaid to American basketball at this time in American sports history. Unlike in the majority of countries, where Football is the choice of emotional high and the symbol of art for the people. In America March Madness is the opium of the American people. 

Author: Luis Lázaro Tijerina