NCAA College Basketball

NCAA will now make $1 billion from TV rights


The NCAA Tournament will be broadcast on CBS/Turner through 2032. The companies signed an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension with the NCAA for the broadcast rights to March Madness, putting the tournament’s yearly TV value at over a billion dollars for the first time.

In 2010, the NCAA and CBS/Turner agreed to a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal that will run through 2024. Apparently the parties liked that deal so much, they didn’t even get halfway through their initial deal before a huge multibillion dollar extension.

So, the NCAA now makes over a billion dollars per year from the TV rights to its basketball tournament starring unpaid basketball players. And that doesn’t include the money it makes from other media rights and ticket sales. It previously made around $700 million from the TV rights to this tournament, and that was already more than enough to pay every single player in men’s Division I basketball a reasonable amount. Now they’ll be making a billion dollars from the TV rights to a tournament starring unpaid basketball players. That’s pretty ridiculous, huh?

However, the NCAA would like you to know that it is good and normal for an organization to make a billion dollars from the TV rights to a basketball tournament starring unpaid basketball players, because they are nice.

As with the current and previous contract, more than 90 percent of the revenue generated from this extension will be used to benefit college athletes through programs, services or direct distribution to member conferences and schools.

Hey! Ninety percent of the revenue generated will benefit college athletes! Neat!

But when you break down that phrasing, it doesn’t really check out. For starters, they’re arguing all money that’s part of “direct distribution to member conferences and schools” is included in that “90 percent.” Between grants based on the amount of sports schools offer, grants based on the amounts of scholarships schools offer, conference grants and “the basketball fund” distributed to schools based on tournament performances, over 60 percent of the money the NCAA makes from the tournament goes directly to schools and conferences. ESPN and the Indy Star have broken down exactly how the organization redistributes money to its members.

By lumping this in under money “used to benefit college athletes,” the NCAA is implying every penny that it gives to schools helps players. But we know that this is not the case.

College sports programs spend billions on buildingsmillions on coach contracts and hundreds of thousands of dollars on search firms that choose which coaches to spend millions of dollars on. They also tend to be phenomenally inefficient users of money. The NCAA is arguing that every penny spent by schools helps student athletes. How can money paid to a coach or search firm benefit student athletes?

Also apparently included in this figure is the $8 million the NCAA gives out in “conference grants,” which conferences spend on compliance, officiating programs and enforcement, among other things. I don’t know how you could consider this money to benefit student-athletes, but it seems like the NCAA hopes you think it does.

The NCAA also counts all the money it has going towards “programs” and “services” as beneficial towards college athletes.

To be fair, this is kinda true. The Student Assistance Fund is a $53 million resource that comes from the March Madness TV deal that helps players out with things their scholarships don’t cover — clothing, trips home for unexpected events like funerals and pretty much anything else. But many athletes don’t know it exists, and money from it sometimes goes to places it shouldn’t. This is the most reasonable thing the NCAA does, and it’s far from perfect. (You could argue it just underscores how bad it is that athletes don’t get money unless they seriously need it.)

Anyway, the NCAA says 90 percent of its cash goes to benefiting student-athletes. Even if that was true — and as we’ve just said up there, it kinda isn’t — they’re still hoping we ignore about $800 million in money that isn’t going to benefit athletes.

The NCAA’s best argument for why it gets to make $1 billion every year to put on a basketball tournament starring unpaid basketball players is that it only keeps $100 million for itself. That’s a freakin’ awful argument.

It’s bad enough for the NCAA to hold a billion-dollar event without paying the people that make it happen. It’s even worse when they try to make it seem like they’re generous for doing it.

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