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NCAA an American Cinderella: Still Sweeping the Ashes after "The Big Dance"

For the love of the game

It’s late March, and those of us who follow college basketball are currently watching one of the most entertaining and surprising tournaments in recent memory.  Not a single one of the top seeded teams in the tournament made the NCAA Final Four.  Not a single one of the second seeded teams made it.  Only one of the third seeded teams is even there.  For a brief moment, Butler, an eighth seed, got to enjoy its second season in a row as Cinderella, but the arrival of the little heralded VCU, an eleventh seed, pushed them out of the limelight.  Unfortunately, though, this story will not end like the fairy tale.

Not only is it tragic and unfair that the players for these teams don’t get to reap the benefits of their performances, but it is indicative of a culture of abuse and exploitation that is deep-grained in America.

VCU is not the first team to slip past the guardians into the Final Four.  Five years ago, George Mason University, another unknown, mid-major team, also an eleven seed, managed to run all the way from Colonial Athletic conference (same as VCU) to the Final Four, arriving as the first mid-major team to ever achieve such a feat.  Though they were beaten by the future champion Florida Gators, the story has become legend, embodying all that is great about college basketball.

Yet, when you look at that basketball team five years down the line, the story isn’t so rosy.  Not a single player from that team made it to the NBA.  A few of the players are still in the game, playing in Europe, Asia, or the purgatory that is the NBA Developmental League.  Not even the coach, Jim Larranaga, received much from the run, merely earning a five year extension at around a half-million a year.  Considering the tournament each year earns hundreds of millions of dollars, shouldn’t those players who make the tournament what it is share in some of that revenue?

Ironically, people argue against paying college players by pointing out that they receive college scholarships in exchange for their play.  This bizarre argument asserts that it’s completely ok to pay a college athlete with education, but morally wrong to pay them cash.

Perhaps more insidious is the argument that these students shouldn’t be paid because they are just playing a game.  Or, in other words, they should want to play basketball for the sake of playing basketball, rather than for any financial gain.  Thousands of people involved with the NCAA are making money from the tournament, from the sponsors to the coaches to the universities, yet the only people who are restricted are the actual players.

This bizarre notion that workers should do their job for “love” rather than for pay has become commonplace outside of the athletic world.  Good jobs, jobs that pay high salaries and offer routes to promotion, frequently require massive amounts of involuntary overtime, yet we justify this indentured servitude by invoking a love of the job.

In effect, American labor has become a giant pyramid scheme.  Every associate lawyer has to work eighty hours a week so someday they can force someone else to work those hours.  Every graduate student and associate professor slaves away, hoping that eventually they can get admitted into tenure.  Every overworked personal assistant suffers humiliation on the promise that they might become the torturer.  Yet, in each case, just like the NBA compared to the NCAA, there are not enough slots.

So Cinderella gets her dance at the ball. The VCU players will be on TV and will be remembered for a few years. But if we do not curb this trend in labor, we will all find ourselves working not for food, but for those same esoteric and ethereal values that are only promised to the exploited.

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