It’s not exactly breaking news that the NCAA exploits its athletes. But with the March Madness college basket tournament starting this week, John Oliver thought it would be a good time to make the organization his next target. So he slammed the NCAA in a scathing segment on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with a sporting tournament making huge amounts of money,” John Oliver began on Last Week Tonight. “But there is something slightly troubling about a $1 billion sports enterprise where the athletes are not paid a penny.”
Indeed, the NCAA makes $1 billion in ad revenue during the March Madness tournament alone. It even gets a sponsor for the ladder used by coaches to cut down the championship nets. Yet the NCAA refuses to give a cent of this cash to the players. Instead, it insists that the student-athletes are “paid” by getting a free education. But John Oliver doesn’t think this is enough, especially since the players are often so focused on athletics that they don’t have time to fully take advantage of their education.
“Athletes are paid in ‘an education,’ the only currency more difficult to spend than Bitcoin,” John Oliver said in his NCAA takedown. “Paying top college athletes with an education is sort like telling a full-time nurse, ‘There’s no salary for this job. We’re just going to be giving you free trumpet lessons, which you’ll be too busy to do. But if you don’t learn to play the trumpet, you’ll be fired.’ Does that sound fair?”
NCAA president Mark Emmert has also maintained that college players shouldn’t be paid because they are athletes, not employees. But John Oliver isn’t buying it.
“The only other people who say ‘they’re not employees’ that much are people who run illegal sweatshops out of their basements,” Oliver added. “They’re not employees! It’s a summer camp where they make the same T-shirt over and over again.”
Of course, some of these NCAA athletes do go pro and make millions of dollars. But, as John Oliver concluded, the odds of this are quite remote: “If you are an athlete that dreams of being a (Minnesota) Viking or a (Washington) Wizard, you probably have about the same chance of becoming an actual Viking or an actual wizard.”
But perhaps the best part of John Oliver’s NCAA takedown was his parody video game at the end of the Last Week Tonight segment. The game, titled “March Sadness,” allowed fans to experience what it’s really like to be a college athlete – risking career-threatening injury, avoiding free gifts, and refusing any profit from autographs.