Who Will Win The NCAA Tournament? The NCAA.

Just after noon Thursday, Ohio State and Dayton will tip off in the first (real) game of the NCAA Tournament, and 64 teams will begin their quest to lift college basketball’s most prestigious trophy. The beauty of this tournament is that no matter who we think will win — I chose Arizona — it’s all up in the air for the next three weeks, and just about anything can happen. Especially today and tomorrow. Ask Lehigh. Or Florida Gulf Coast. Or any of the other Cinderellas or improbable national champions that have captured the hearts of America in Marches past.

The true winner of this tournament, though, is predetermined: it is the NCAA, the organization that will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in this three-week period alone. And compared to other sports organizations or business enterprises in America, it will distribute a minimal amount of that money back to the players who make it all happen.

In 2010, the NCAA signed a 14-year contract with CBS and Turner Sports (TNT, TBS, and truTV), giving those networks the right to broadcast the tournament for the measly sum of $10.8 billion. For this tournament alone, the NCAA will haul in somewhere around $770 million in revenue. That doesn’t include revenue from ticket and concession sales or from corporate sponsorships, which together add tens of millions more to the NCAA’s coffers.

The NCAA isn’t the only winner. CBS and Turner wouldn’t pay this much money for the broadcast rights if it didn’t earn that much and more back, and the same goes for the tournament’s other sponsors and advertisers. Las Vegas experts say the first four days of the NCAA Tournament generate a betting handle similar to the Super Bowl, which brought in $119.4 million this year alone. The coaches — of both tournament teams and non — earn salaries stretching from hundreds of thousands of dollars to, in the case of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, more than $7 million a year.

The only group that doesn’t seem to get their fair share is, of course, the players.

The NCAA loves to say that it redistributes money to players through athletic scholarships — you’ll see an endless stream of commercials touting the fact that its athletes “go pro in something other than sports” over the next three weeks — but does that actually cover it? On its web site, the NCAA notes that the annual value of a full-ride athletic scholarship ranges from $15,000 at a typical in-state public school to $35,000 at a private university. “The real value of athletics scholarships,” the NCAA website tells us, “is intangible. Without them, many student-athletes would be unable to pursue their athletics and academic dreams.”

That’s a convenient way to put it, because the cost of the average scholarship doesn’t come close to the money basketball players would receive if they shared in NCAA Tournament revenues the way athletes in non-quasi-professional sports leagues share in the revenues they create. Somewhere between 45 …read more