Is March Madness Also ‘Legal Madness’ for College Sports?

Is March Madness going to turn into “Legal Madness”? It very well could as recent attempts at lawsuits have demonstrated. March Madness tips off on March 13th and with that comes popular bracket pools and a staggering amount of money placed on sports betting.  Last year, the American Gaming Association estimated that 40 million Americans were filling out more than 70 million brackets and waging a whopping $9 billion on the NCAA tournament. In fact, more U.S. money is wagered on March Madness than any other event besides the Super Bowl.

But March Madness brings up much more than gambling concerns. Sports Law Expert Marc Edelman, an associate professor at Baruch College, says there are five main reasons why this highly publicized, frenzied annual event is also legal madness in the world of college sports.

1.  NCAA tournament revenues may eventually lead athletes to unionize or boycott

The NCAA collects just over $770 Million per year from NCAA Tournament broadcast fees.  If just 45% of revenues were designated to the athletes (a percentage similar to pro athletes’ revenue share), each player in the NCAA Tournament could earn just over $340,000 per tournament.  Instead, the athletes are paid nothing.

2.  Athletes are purportedly compensated through a free education, but they are rarely in class

Logistics of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which includes Thursday and Friday games in the early rounds and then a Monday night championship, keeps some “student-athletes” out of the classroom for more days than they attend in March.  Under the worst situations, some college athletes could reasonably spend up to 25 days on the road and miss a lot of classes during the month of March.

3.  Massive amounts of sports gambling will occur, despite the NCAA’s objection

More U.S. money is wagered on March Madness than any other event besides the Super Bowl.  While the NCAA might be able to shutdown certain forms of pay-to-play gambling, the NCAA has also objected to free contests, even though the NCAA has absolutely no legal recourse against free activities.

4.  The NCAA may attempt futilely to stop Daily Fantasy Sports operators from using athlete names

In a similar vein, the NCAA recently has voiced opposition to daily fantasy sports operators using college athletes’ names in their games.  The NCAA probably does not have legal standing to stop this because rights to the athletes’ names and likenesses seem to lie with the athletes themselves, and not the NCAA. There have already been lawsuits revolving around video games and their ability to use names and likenesses.

5. Colleges and beer companies become odd bed fellows to maximize profits

Despite a generally strong opposition to a drinking culture, the NCAA allows its television partners to air beer commercials for one minute per hour – sometimes with the players appearing in the background of in-gamer advertising.  This is a business decision that seems inconsistent with the NCAA general strict view towards alcohol.  But it allows the NCAA to maximize revenue from its television broadcast partners.

Note: Professor Marc Edelman is a nationally recognized scholar in the field of sports law with additional specialties in antitrust law, intellectual property law, contract law, and gaming law. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association and is a featured blogger for Forbes Sports Money and Sports Law. He has also been published in numerous law journals, including Harvard Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, Florida Law Review, Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance, and others.

March and Legal Madness are upon us
March and Legal Madness are upon us

Rick Limpert

Rick Limpert is an award winning Atlanta-based freelance writer, columnist, host of The Tech of Sports Podcast and best-selling author. He has covered sports, technology and events all over the world. His works have been featured on Yahoo Sports, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, nba.com and in Sports Illustrated.

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