Fans of NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments are currently in the throes of March Madness.
The NCAA will make a billion dollars on the three-week men's tournament, and Joe Nocera says the players are generating that wealth — for everybody but themselves.
Nocera, co-author of "Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA," said that the NCAA is nothing more than a cartel whose amateurism rules are fundamentally designed to ensure that the players have no money, no rights and no power. He thinks it's a civil rights issue.
"It's about a class of people, a relatively small class admittedly, who are fundamentally exploited," Nocera said during a speech at the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas on March 7, which recently aired on MPR News.
Athletes involved in men's basketball and football are little more than indentured servants, and those college sports have become essentially "revenue-maximizing non-profits," he said.
The NCAA was first organized in 1905 to improve safety for college football players, and later acted as a watchdog for cheating in college sports. The organization's regulations didn't see any lasting effects until the 1950s, when they began using the media as a tool for enforcement, persuading fans through bad press to avoid the college sports that were breaking the rules.
Today, if players don't toe the line of what the NCAA decides is regulatory it can doom a program or a career, Nocera said.
"Amateurism is whatever the NCAA says it is," he said. "If a football player takes $5 he's in violation of NCAA rules. But if an Olympic swimmer wins a gold medal and is awarded $75,000 or $100,000 by the USOC they can take that money and still be an amateur in college."
The sports world has long viewed the NCAA as the good guys going after the bad guys, but over the past five years that perception has started to change as the exploitation of players comes to light, Nocera said.
"The truth is that money still comes first," he said. "I really don't think we're going to see any big changes unless the players themselves were to do something dramatic, like not come out for a game, and I don't think that'll ever happen."
Formerly with the New York Times, Joe Nocera is now a columnist for Bloomberg View.
To listen to the full speech, click the audio player above.
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