March Madness is ready to spread, with the NCAA basketball tournament set to kick off Tuesday, March 17th. But John Oliver thinks the name should be retitled “March Sadness.” In the above clip, a hoops-themed segment from Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, the host argues that student-atheletes aren’t fairly compensated, arguing that their four-year scholarships aren’t worth the grueling schedule, often subpar education and exploitative nature of video games and other merchandise.
The tournament rakes in over $1 billion in TV revenue – even more than the Super Bowl – thanks to the constant barrage of ad campaigns. “Everything about this tournament is brand – even the famous moment when players cut down the net,” Oliver notes, before cutting to a hilariously surreal clip of a championship net-cutting ceremony sponsored by Werner ladders.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with a sporting tournament making huge amounts of money,” the host continues. “But there is something slightly troubling about a billion-dollar sports enterprise where the athletes are not paid a penny.” He then cuts to a clip from NCAA President Mark Emmert, who argues that student-athletes “are not employees.” But Oliver argues that this is a corrupt system, often leaving players with little study time, laughable “paper classes” and – in the case of former UConn guard Shabazz Napier – hungry nights.
“Athletes are paid in ‘an education,’ the only currency more difficult to spend than Bitcoin,” Oliver jokes, adding that a four-year education is “undeniably valuable,” assuming players don’t get hurt and lose their scholarships altogether. “Paying top college athletes with an education is sort like telling a full-time nurse, ‘There’s no salary for this job,'” he says. “‘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?'”
The irony, Oliver argues, is that some higher-level colleges have exorbitant budgets for high-class facilities, enormous stadiums and multi-million dollar coach salaries. And “less than 2 percent” of college basketball and football athletes go on to the professional level. “If you’re an athlete who dreams of being a Viking or a Wizard, you probably have about the same chance of becoming an actual viking or an actual wizard,” Oliver says.
The segment ends with a hilarious and sad teaser for the fake video game March Sadness 2015 (“Rated E for Exploitative”), which features coaches screaming obscenities at players and athletes taking Swahili 101 to keep their grades up.