March Madness starts today with 64 college basketball teams trying to make it to San Antonio, where this year's championship will be play, but it comes at a time when there's a dark shadow hanging over college athletics, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.
An FBI investigation into alleged under-the-table payments to players has reignited the debate over whether these high-profile athletes are fairly being compensated for their work.
St. Mary's law professor David Grenardo, who is a former college athlete and has studied the college labor market, says the current scholarship package that players are offered is a drop in the bucket.
"There is a price tag you can put on to someone's education but it pales in comparison to the amount of money these guys are generating," he explains.
Some scholarships at schools could be for $50,000 a year for a student, but that pales in comparison to the money the NCAA is making from the tournament, which comes from the $10.8 billion deal (and $8.8 billion extension) the NCAA has with CBS and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. On top of that, the former college football player at Rice University says college athletes are pulled in many directions, meaning the education they receive may not be the same as non-student athletes.
In a report that Grenardo authored, he lobbies for paying college players, but setting a $3 million cap.
There would also be performance bonuses, which he feels would draw star players to smaller schools, where they would get more playing time and there would be a higher likelihood that they would win post-season awards.
"If you can steal one four or five star player, that would completely change how competitive that mid-major team is," he says.
Whether the NCAA acts and changes their tune, it's likely that the landscape of college basketball will rapidly change.
The NBA is looking to strengthen its relationship with the high school players, and there is talk of rolling back the 19-year-old age limit that was instituted in 2005, and letting high school players enter the draft again. The goal is apparently to strengthen the G League, which is like the NBA's minor league, by increasing salaries.
Australia's version of the NBA has announced its "Next Stars" program will pay young players about $78,000, which is also an attractive offer to American high schoolers who are not thrilled about college.
Grenardo says that, long as the NCAA deprives athletes of the ability to make money, they will seek it somewhere else.
"Let’s start compensating players, and open it up, and I think we'd have a more competitive college game."