I’ve said it before but I feel like the most appropriate author photo for a writer with a significant other is a picture of said writer doing something like sitting with their head in their hands or staring at the ceiling or lying in the fetal position under the dining room table weeping and behind them their partner staring at them with a look that says, “Really? Isn’t this what we did yesterday?”
Take my partner, Penelope Cruz.* Today in Los Angeles, in between interviews and a photo shoot and doing her doctoral work, she sat down next to me on the couch and said, “If you do not figure out what to write for Sports Desk I don’t want to think what’s going to happen to you.” I might have put a sort of curse on myself earlier in the day and said something like, “If I don’t finish this post today then…” It’s not worth getting into the exact nature of the curse. It does involve my abilities to sit down and also process Thai food.
“Just say it,” she said. In addition to being a very fine actress, Penelope knows that I have a secret. For the last two weeks she has been urging me to write about it and I’ve done things like sit on the couch and stare at the ceiling and say, “You don’t even like sports. You can’t understand.” I don’t want to brag but some people have told me my theatrical abilities are “really something.” The thing is, she’s right. All these weeks I’ve been holding back. I’ve been getting requests for the next Sports Desk column and everyone seems to want the same thing. Penelope gets off of skype with Pedro and says, “For goodness sakes just tell them.” And then she kisses me. A lot.
I do not give a damn about March Madness.
Go ahead. Tell me how great it is. That it’s the only sport you like. That we get to see basketball the way an old white guy from Canada intended it. It’s about the love of the game. It’s about the little guy. It’s about the school you teach for and so who cares that you don’t like sports because OH MY GOD, BAYLOR!!!!!
I told Penelope this was going to be the post where I lost all my readers. It’s not that I don’t like college basketball. I actually love it. I particularly love women’s basketball. I’m from Connecticut. I grew up during the era of Rebecca Lobo and the first truly great UConn women’s team. Every kid in Connecticut wore a UConn jersey at one point or another. I love the fact that women’s games sell out even more than the men’s and I love the fact that last year, coming home from Columbia, MO I sat on the shuttle to St. Louis with a family member of UConn’s star player, Maya Moore and we talked all about how amazing that program is and all the opportunities she has and what a thing it is to watch a young woman do what she does best in the world, and better than most. I love how excited the crowds get and that it’s not like a Lakers game or Knicks game where very few hard working people can afford a seat and kids from poor backgrounds who love the sport sure can’t see a game live. I love the spirit of it. I like the idea of it. I love all those people driving across the country and screaming in bars and kids running down the court and cutting the net down when they win. I love that Vermont gets to play in a televised game and get their hats handed to them by Syracuse but who cares because oh my gosh they got there. March Madness!!!!
It’s getting a little warm in here. Maybe I do love March Madness.
Nope. Look, here’s what I don’t love.
I don’t love watching women athletes reach the height of their career at the age of 20. I know, WNBA, Olympics, Europe. Whatever. It’s not the same. The women who play basketball on teams like UConn and Tennessee are having their professional careers right now. And they aren’t getting compensated for it. The WNBA is not a success. The women who play in the Sweet 16 during March Madness will have a bigger and more consistent television audience than they ever will if they play professionally.
The team salary cap within the WNBA for the year 2013 (yes, three years from now) is $913,000. Let’s just say that figure again. $913,000.
Here are a few other figures from the Altius Directory:
* WNBA Champion - $10,500 per player
* Championship Runner-up - $5,250 per player
* Eliminated in semifinals - $2,625 per player
* Eliminated in quarterfinals - $1,050 per player
* Most Valuable Player Award - $15,000
* All-WNBA First Team Award - $10,000 per player
* All-WNBA Second Team Award - $5,000 per player
* Defensive Player Award - $5,000
* Sportsmanship Award - $5,000
* Rookie of the Year Award - $5,000
* Most Improved Player Award - $5,000
WNBA Salary Fast Facts:
* Rookie minimum salary: $34,500
* Average rookie salary: $36,500, plus daily allowance
* Veteran (over 3 years with the WNBA) minimum: $50,000,
* Maximum salary: $95,000
· Team salary cap: $750,000, which teams may exceed by 4%
There are 34 games in a season. 43 if you make it all the way. It’s hard on your body and even if you play pro your career is short. You’re going to have surgeries and lots of medical bills and, oh yes, many college stars are still going to have student loans to pay off. Imagine if you were better at what you did than most people in the world and that many of the guys you went to school with were making either insane money professionally or pretty good money in Europe. It’s a hard pill to swallow and when I see all those women in one place, playing so beautifully, and I know that many of them came from situations as economically desperate as their male counterparts, it takes some of the joy out of it for me. And when I read how much money schools make on the backs of these women... I still cheer for them and I am so happy they get their moment on television but I also think it’s sad.
And it’s not just the women. It’s great watching the guys play but I don’t feel the argument about it being pure basketball. I think the joy is pure and I think it wouldn’t be hard to make the men’s side of things feel equal for everyone in terms of what the college’s and the NCAA get out of it and what the players get. Because it’s true that part of the joy (and there is tremendous joy) of watching March Madness is seeing kids who are never going to be pro play on a national stage and just kill it. The Sports Illustrated I got last week shows Vermont’s, Maurice Joseph looking thunderstruck as Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine goes in for the layup. At the same time, a lot of money gets made off of March Madness. CBS made over $600 million in television advertising last year. The deal the NCAA signed with CBS is worth $6 billion dollars over 11 years. The NCAA can use the image of any player for any purpose and they make a lot of money doing it. And the players don’t see a penny except for tuition scholarships. It may be “pure” to say that an education is all a college player should hope for but this is big business for a lot of people. And many college players are not going to go pro and many have been allowed to slide by academically, leaving them unprepared for post-collegiate, post-basketball life. There’s a case weaving its way through the courts that would require that college athletes be compensated for the use their image and their name. Right now, you can buy a copy of March Madness: The Greatest Moments Of The NCAA Tournament (DVD) for $19.95. The narrator is a CBS commentator. No students will see royalties from that.
“See,” I just told Penelope. “I’m a total downer.” She says she’s just glad I got the post finished. “You just want to write about baseball.” True. I’ve been listening to spring training on the radio and picking out which Orioles shirt to buy this year. I do want to talk about baseball. But sometimes you just have to get the tough stuff off your chest before you can say anything else.
* My partner’s name is actually Angeline. She won’t let me use her last name. She’s the one standing there in the photo of me lying beneath my desk with my head in the trash basket.