Millionaire Coaches, Billion-Dollar TV Contracts and Zip for the Players

The players of Ohio State or Florida will be named college basketball champions tonight.

Regardless of who wins the game, players from both teams will end up big losers in the financial bonanza that March Madness has become, critics say.

From coaches to colleges to TV networks, everybody makes millions off the games -- everybody that is, except those who actually touch the ball.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has strict rules that prohibit student-athletes from receiving any compensation. As another basketball season wraps up, a group of critics is once again questioning why the students -- many who have grown up in poverty -- can't cash in.

Boyce D. Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University, equated the NCAA's leadership to "a bunch of pimps."

"Basically pimps are the types of people that control you and manipulate you and try to persuade you that they are trying to protect you," Watkins said. "There are many rules in place that are not protecting the athletes' interests. They are protecting the NCAA's interests."

Watkins said some players' mothers were being evicted from their homes while some coaches' wives were flying to games on private jets. "How in the world can you ever justify that with any degree of sanity in your head?" he said.

Watkins said there was nothing wrong with making money, except if you failed to share it with those doing most of the work.

"A coach can't win a basketball game if he does not have basketball players," he said. "The crime in all of this is that many of these players, they come from poverty and their families really need this money."

While NCAA's rules prohibit any financial gain by students, coaches can sign multimillion-dollar shoe contracts -- essentially forcing their players to wear a certain brand of sneakers. The players can't enter into similar deals.

Players are prohibited, in most cases, from signing autographs. They can't talk to professional teams until after the end of their college athletic career.

But that hasn't stopped them from becoming commodities.

Take the video game world.

Electronic Arts produces a game called "NCAA March Madness 07." While NCAA rules prohibit the company from actually including the players in the game, most fans can recognize their favorite players.

Jordan Edelstein, director of marketing for EA's basketball franchises, said the game used player numbers, heights, weights and skin color but didn't use names or any other likeness.

Because they are not officially in the game, the players don't receive any compensation.

The NCAA does, though.

EA enters into a licensing agreement with the NCAA through its business arm, the Collegiate Licensing Co., Edelstein said.

That agreement allows the video game maker to include school logos, specific fight songs and crowd chants, and replicate the layout and look of the college arenas.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who writes books about the sports industry, said "few and far between" players go on to the pros. Most, "walk away with nothing."

He said that about half of the students graduated, but that really doesn't prepare them for life either.

"A very large share that do graduate after six years really haven't learned very much because they're in phony classes and they're given special treatment. Tutors do the work for them," Zimbalist said.

Basketball, football and baseball have the lowest graduation rates of any college sport, according to the NCAA.

The men's sport with the highest average in 2003-04 was gymnastics, followed by ice hockey, skiing, swimming and diving, fencing, lacrosse and golf.

Some top coaches can make $2 million to $5 million a year, Zimbalist said, when salary and sponsorship fees are included.

Zimbalist said that coaches in the NCAA could make as much as someone coaching professionals in the NBA even though the college team might only have a tenth of the revenue of the professional team.

"It doesn't make economic sense, but the reason it happens is because the players aren't getting paid," he said. "So the coaches basically are getting paid to coach plus they're getting paid for recruiting the players. They're getting paid for what the players do. It's a very unjust economic system. It's a crazy economic system, but it's what we have."

Roger Noll, an economics professor emeritus at Stanford University and a former college basketball player, said because the players weren't paid there was plenty of cash to flow to the coaches.

"When a coach comes to a school, he comes with not only his salary and benefits from the school but he comes with a package of other stuff that has been promised to him by others," Noll said.

In many towns, that includes things like a job hosting a weekly television show. Additionally there are clubs that will buy a house and a car for the coach.

"If you have a booster club that gave an apartment or a car to a player, that would be enough to get you thrown out of the NCAA," Noll said. "But if you have exactly the same booster club doing it for the coach, that's fine."

So what do the players get out of this?

"They get free shoes," said Noll who played for CalTech from 1958 to 1962. "When I played in college, I had to buy my own shoes. That's it. They get free shoes."

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