Maybe Frontline’s program tonight on money in college sports will be a balanced portrayal of a complicated issue. The promotional material from PBS offers little hope in that regard.
“March Madness” isn’t just a basketball tournament,” says the PBS release. “It’s become big business, with television rights alone worth $10.8 billion over 14 years….Lowell Bergman takes a hard look at the economics of the annual NCAA tournament − a cash cow for amateur athletics that generates enormous dollars for everyone except the players themselves, raising basic questions of fairness that are now leading a handful of influential figures to challenge the way the NCAA operates.”
Is it heat or is it light?
I’m going with “heat” since the framework of the program appears to be based on commonly known information guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of college sports critics.
The NCAA media contract generates a lot of money? No secret there.
Sonny Vaccaro has little use for the NCAA? Got it.
Ed O’Bannon is suing the NCAA? Tracking on that one, too.
To create a crusading impression, Bergman (a highly qualified reporter, by the way) clearly plays for the camera as he questions NCAA President Mark Emmert. Almost all of Bergman’s interrogatives on a video clip could be answered through a cursory Internet search, but he still manages to whip up an I-must-have-misunderstood expression of astonishment as Emmert describes the size of the NCAA agreement with CBS and Turner. “That’s 10.8 billion dollars?’” Bergman asks, adding his own verbal italics, as if he were hearing the information for the first time.
The program no doubt will play well with crowds predisposed not to favor big-time college sports. Already, Washington Post reporter Rick Maese has checked in with a gushing review. From Maese’s enthusiasm, one might conclude that PBS was preaching to the converted, which is my concern: Efforts like this are less about genuine understanding than about inflammation.
Let’s switch to the real world, where about three dozen Lock Haven student-athletes participated in a relay to the state capital in Harrisburg to protest higher education funding cuts.
Wrote Libby Sander of the Chronicle of Higher Education: “When students, faculty, and staff at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania gathered last week for an on-campus rally to protest proposed budget cuts that would slash state funds for public higher education by more than 50 percent, it wasn’t long before chants of ‘March to Harrisburg!’ rose from the crowd.
“That’s when Nick Hilton, a three-sport varsity athlete, turned to his cross country coach, Aaron Russell, with a question that rang like a challenge.
“ ‘Why march when you can run?’ he asked.”
And so the student-athletes ran 100 miles to a rally at the capitol to call attention to the widening gap between their desire for a college education and their ability to afford it.
Lowell Bergman may want to look at this issue as he considers what to do next.