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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
The Madness is upon us. March Madness, that is. And, to throw in a quick aside right off the top here, the phrase "March Madness" was not coined by sportscaster Brett Musberger, as one rumor has it. We can go all the way back to the 1940's and find that March Madness was a term used each spring for the end of the Illinois High School Athletic Association's basketball season. Sixty years later, the fever is at a high pitch this week as teams from every corner of the country galvanize their fans, hoping for a Sweet Sixteen appearance or the ultimate, a spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks. The success of college basketball has hit such heights today that many coaches make considerably more money than the presidents of the universities they represent. Many teams travel exclusively by private jet to any game beyond driving distance from their school. There are 65 teams who have made it to what they call The Big Dance this week--and many more big schools with big programs that didn't make it and are sitting home watching all the frenzy with millions of the rest of us on television. If we multiplied the number of teams playing elite college hoops by the number of kids on each roster, we'd come up with thousands of students who basically play basketball full time for their college or university.
I'm not making the "it's not fair that these kids don't share in the revenue they produce" point here. The University of Arizona program, for instance, makes about $8 million profit for the school. The coaches are paid handsomely. The recruiting coffers are brimming. Admissions are healthy, in part because of the success of the basketball team and yet the players, except for their scholarships, don't share in the spoils they themselves generate. But, for the moment, let's forget about the mega-bucks engulfing a supposedly amateur operation. It's the time commitment I just can't quite grasp.
What does every college freshman report as the biggest challenge? Time management. How to prepare for all the tests, papers, labs. When and where to study. How much of a social life and extracurricular activities can be squeezed in without detriment to the academic focus. Extracurricular activities? Try playing Division I basketball. Beyond extensive time on the court itself for games and practice, you're in the weight room, you're icing your knees on the trainer's table, you're making speeches at alumni lunches, you're showing recruits a good time on campus, you're packing to board the school's private charter jet, you're spending afternoons making calls to land tickets for your family and friends for the really big games. I've been to many an NFL combine in early summer, interviewing dozens of football players who have just graduated college. Some are academic standouts and somehow managed to earn a bonified degree while playing big-time college sports. Most, I can't begin to imagine what kinds of hoops the professors of that school jumped through to award a degree with that school's name on the diploma to this kid who couldn't possibly have read Mark Twain or pondered the effect of The Big Bang or studied the religious history of the Middle East. It's not a matter of capability. It's a matter of time.
I get hooked into March Madness with the rest of you. The giant slayers such as Gonzaga, going after the crown jewel champs, such as Duke. The wild team spirit. It's intoxicating. But it does occur to me, when I see the level of play, the obvious commitment, when I read the travel schedule of these college teams, that there is probably not a lot of emphasis on academia during the four years these players spend on their respective college campuses.
And now the elite high schools are starting to draw crowds of multiple thousands. They're starting to criss-cross the country to play in televised promotional games. It won't be long before our high school athletes will also graduate without having had time to read Mark Twain.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
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