FRONTLINE Looks at College Sports

March 26, 2011

FRONTLINE continues its new monthly magazine program with the lead story “Money and March Madness,” an inside look at the multi-billion dollar business of college sports and the NCAA’s brand of amateur athletics, airing Tuesday, March 29, 2011, at 9 P.M. ET (check local listings). In the San Francisco Bay area, it will air on Sunday, April 3, at 7 p.m. on KQED and on Monday, April 4, at 10 pm on KTEH.

FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman interviews Sonny Vaccaro, a former marketing executive at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok who, in the late 1970s, was instrumental in the commercialization of college basketball. As he and his employers profited off the game, so did the NCAA, which now boasts a 14-year, $10.8 billion television contract for March Madness.

But, Vaccaro points out, there’s something wrong when everybody’s making money “except the kids.”

Mark Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington and the new president of the NCAA, defends the NCAA’s notion of amateurism. He says that “student-athletes” get a “fair bargain”: They have opportunities to develop their athletic skills, get an education, and prepare for a successful career after college.

But author Michael Lewis calls the college sports business “ruthless,” and says that the Big Time football and basketball players who make millions for their schools and the NCAA are merely “indentured servants.” Even high profile players say there’s something wrong with the system. Joakim Noah, NBA star and former Final Four MVP, tells FRONTLINE, “its unfair to the college athlete.”

Now, Vaccaro, a long-time critic of the NCAA, is on a crusade to change the rules that govern college sports. He’s lending his energies to a class-action lawsuit that aims to ensure that former players have a share in the wealth they created.

Four UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism students contributed: Emily Bender, Julia Landau, Brooke
Minters, and Ryan Phillips.

In addition, four alums worked on the film: producer and director of photography Zachary Stauffer, ’08, associate producers and camera operators Andres Cediel, ’04, and Japhet Weeks, ’10, and fact checker Jonathan Jones,’06.

Three UCB undergraduates, Alyssa Jaffer, Rubina Jaffer and Paula Villescaz, also provided research and logistical support.

Marlena Telvick and the Investigative Reporting Program provided additional support.

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