The NCAA Basketball

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Imagine being the star actor or actress of an award winning production, obtaining the world wide spotlight, and making millions of dollars. You spend around 40 hours per week preparing for a show that imports millions of dollars to the owner of the show, producers, employees, and you. Everyone gets paid extremely well, especially you, who is the main reason why the show, movie, or production is so successful. Wouldn’t you feel like you fit in, contributed to the success, and were also respected for what you do for the show? Not only could you provide necessities for your own life, but your financial benefits could also help to raise children, buy a house, or do whatever you want in the world. Why then, are college athletes not given a portion of the massive earnings that their respective college or university receive off of their achievements? Why don’t the players receive any money off of sales from their own jerseys? Doesn’t each athlete spend the majority of their time trying to better their skill in order to achieve success on the field or court? How is this different from a job?

In the 20 minute PBS Frontline Documentary, Money and March Madness, Frontline develops a documentary that gives an in-depth view on the conditions and rules that NCAA college athletes have to abide by. Throughout the documentary, PBS uses realistic burdens that past players have previously experienced, and also includes the regretful process that former marketing executives for massive companies have proceeded with, that have contributed to the increased commercialization of NCAA college basketball. UC Berkeley and Boston College graduate, Zachary Stauffer, who has also produced many other PBS Frontline documentaries, uses rhetorical devices and techniques to try to create a view that shows the audience the confusing and complex business that college athletes must deal with in order to participate. Stauffer and PBS consistently establish support for the stress and confusion that athletes tend to go through. Throughout the documentary, rhetorical devices presented in Jay Heinrich’s book, Thank You For Arguing, are used to present a credential argument in favor of college athletes earning some sort of salary, or receiving benefits other than the normal athletic scholarship benefits.

The NCAA, as a whole, is a massive, non-profit company that allows athletes to play either under scholarship, or without; without being a school-preferred walk-on position. Zachary Stauffer begins Money and March Madness by exhibiting athletes playing their respective sport among their teammates, while a vast quantity of students rush to form loud, rowdy student sections. The correspondent and narrator of the documentary, Lowell Bergman, contains a serious and informative tone while claiming, “nearly 140 million people tune in to see the biggest basketball tournament of the year,” which is stated while B-Roll of basketball players playing and cheerleaders performing is played. Not only are basketball players advertised within the footage, but the video also shows the cheerful student sections. Stauffer displays this imagery to allow the audience or viewer to think of college athletics as a massive group, which allows he or she (audience) to think of the issues between athletes and the NCAA, to contain not just involve individual athletes, but the NCAA’s athletes as a whole group. Lowell Bergman’s tone is essential to inform the audience of how large the athletic group is, and to also advise about how popular the March Madness tournament is.

Following the vivid imagery in the opening scene, Zachary Stauffer incorporates information that allows the audience to view the NCAA as an extremely rich business. Lowell Bergman continues to use diction, powerful enunciation, and a somewhat didactic tone to show the power and wealth within the NCAA. Bergman informs the audience that the “NCAA and March Madness is a multi-billion dollar business.” Following this statement, is the beginning of an interview between Lowell Bergman and NCAA President, Mark Emmert. Emmert begins by claiming that “90% of revenue that flows into the NCAA comes from the media rights and ticket sales of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.” Following this statistic, Emmert is questioned about the TV contract that the NCAA is currently in, which Emmert asserts, “the current contract between the NCAA and CBS and Turner Broadcasting System is worth 14 years for $10.8 billion, which is about $700 million per year.” The president uses an admiring, yet humble tone through his opening statements. Bergman intentionally asked these questions so that Emmert could give the audience a general idea of how wealthy the NCAA truly is. Enunciation was a huge component of the diction and language because of the tones uses by the Bergman. Specifically, Bergman emphasized the word “billion,” to not only establish a demanding tone, but advance (subject) one of the main ideas of the documentary: the NCAA’s abundance of money.

By presenting information that connects to audiences in financial ways, advancement from idea to idea allows Stauffer to begin to discuss flaws within the NCAA. A commonplace, as Jay Heinrichs defines as “a viewpoint your audience holds in common,” is mentioned within the second interviewee, Sonny Vaccaro. Not only does Sonny establish a commonplace, but he also shows sympathy towards the players he once made money off of. Sonny maintains an empathetic tone when he claims, “While many make millions of dollars, the people we tune in to watch, the players, get short changed.” The commonplace (players get short-changed), and sympathy (while we make millions, the important people get nothing), allows the audience to realize the negativity within the relationship between the players and the NCAA. Sonny Vaccaro uses the commonplace to advance the main concept of the integral documentary: the mistreatment of college athletes. Throughout Money and March Madness, this idea is debated many times because of the necessary evaluation and meaning. The commonplace allows the documentary to move forth with the audience questioning the way athletes are benefitted from their play. Clearly, Sonny displays an empathetic tone, because he cares about the health and rewards that he thinks players need and deserve. For that reason alone, was the reason Vaccaro actually ended up leaving the NCAA and Nike.

Mistreatment among athletes is debated and discussed among authors, Mark Emmert, and Lowell Bergman to try to convince the audience to take a side. The infusion of ideas from each side creates a layout of information that allows the audience to advance from one scene to the next throughout the video. PBS uses the scene consisting of Sonny Vaccaro’s stories as a persuadable moment, which Jay Heinrich claims is “where the audience is most vulnerable to your claim.” Sonny Vaccaro states, “I know that the kids aren’t treated fairly, that’s what I know is wrong. Everybody is making money but the kids.” This advances Stauffer, Vaccaro, and PBS’s view that the NCAA is mistreating the athletes financially. When watching this documentary, I was weary about what to believe. This scene happened to be the persuadable moment because I was vulnerable to everything being said, which included statements that made the NCAA look like a bad business. Sonny uses an opportunistic and hopeful tone in order to lure the audience to believe that students aren’t treated well.

As well as not being benefitted financially at certain time of the year, athletes sometimes don’t have a say in clothing and appearance in the spotlight. Following the persuadable moment, Zachary Stauffer then uses imagery through player’s highlights. Also, a slippery slope is portrayed when Sonny Vaccaro explains how he “paid the college coaches to put the shoes and shirt on the players so that the general public would buy the products.” This represents a slippery slope considering Sonny Vaccaro assumed that if he paid coaches to make their players wear a certain product, that he would make more money because the public would buy the product. Imagery was displayed during the basketball highlights where the players were seen playing in specific Nike products. This correlates to the imagery because it shows to the audience that players are forced to do certain things or wear certain items that they normally wouldn’t. However, Vaccaro spoke very earnestly about how he went about his business. Fortunately, he became aware of his actions and gave up on Nike and the NCAA because he couldn’t live with himself using athletes to make money.

Once the author and correspondent inform the audience about the biased history and tendencies that occur against the players, Lowell Bergman uses diction and a forthright tone to show the procedures the athletes must go through in order to participate. Bergman informs, “Before they’re allowed to compete, athletes have to sign this form, saying that they are amateurs. They give up all compensation for playing and promise to abide by all the rules in this 440 page manual.” This document that all athletes must abide by delineated the strict guidelines that all athletes must follow in order to play. The way Lowell Bergman used the words amateurs, and compensation, were to reflect on the central idea of the manual- “these athletes are young, and no considered employees by the NCAA.” Even if the athletes are under scholarship, nothing is guaranteed, as universities can only offer scholarships for 1 year separately. Imagery and deduction are used when introducing the debate about athlete compensation issues. Andrew Zimbalist, the interviewee on compensation issues, questions the NCAA’s process. He follows this by exclaiming, “Since 1973, you can only give a one-year scholarship. So if the person is no longer valuable to the coach, he doesn’t have to waste one of his scholarships on the person, even if that person’s a terrific student, even if the person broke a leg. And so, it seems clear that there is a compensation for a specific skill. And that makes it look very much like a professional job.” Zimbalist says this while imagery is displayed, a basketball player on crutches, and bench players during a game. This imagery shows the bench players frustrated that they “may not be valuable to the coach anymore,” which correlates to the insecurity of scholarships. The player on crutches relates to the lack of security of a scholarship due to an injury. All of these examples relate to the constant mistreatment of the players. Besides the scholarship to attend the school, athletes practically get nothing.

Using these quotes and imagery, PBS follows it up by inserting great exemplification for support towards players making money or getting certain benefits. Joakim Noah, a former star Florida basketball player, contains a confused tone as he talks about his college experience. He states, “…I’d have some teammates who came from all over the country and, you know, they couldn’t pay for their family members to go watch this game. I mean, we’re playing in the Final Four, but you can’t go to the game? The school can’t pay for it? Like why? I mean, how much money are we generating here? Bergman replies to Noah with “$700 million, $800 million a year.” Noah replies back, “And a kid’s uncle can’t go see him play in the Final Four?” The exemplification and imagery with Joakim Noah shows a selfishness within the NCAA when they refuse to provide less-fortunate families with tickets to watch their children perform at the highest stage in the world. Following this interview with Joakim Noah, Lowell Bergman questions President Mark Emmert about providing tickets for families. When questioned about not providing travel benefits for families, Emmert shies away from an assertive tone, and comes completely quiet. In a way, the reason that providing additional benefits to less-fortunate student athletes may be important, is because some athletes are doomed with having no other choice than to accept bribes and money from fans, which result in suspensions.

To end the documentary, PBS demonstrates the Straw Man Fallacy and provides additional imagery to show an infamous characteristic of the NCAA. Ed O’Bannon, a former star UCLA basketball player, who led the team to the National Championship game in the Final Four, talks about the corrupt business of the NCAA. Lowell Bergman narrates, “In 1995, Ed O’Bannon was the national player of the year and led UCLA to victory in the Final Four. Today, O’Bannon receives no residuals from any game he played in, or any compensation for the use of his image.” In fact, O’Bannon uses an antagonistic tone when talking to correspondent Lowell Bergman about the time when he found out that the NCAA used his image and skillset to clone him in a basketball video game. In no way shape or form, did the NCAA ask for permission or consent to use the image. O’Bannon uses the Straw Man Fallacy by attacking the weaker part, or the critical part of the NCAA’s rules. Clearly frustrated, O’Bannon claims he didn’t earn any money for contributing to the millions of dollars that the NCAA made off of his own image. The imagery included shows O’Bannon playing the EA NCAA Basketball game as his own character at UCLA. O’Bannon appears to be very sad throughout the entire scene, which makes the NCAA look incredibly bad.

PBS Frontline Documentary Money and March Madness thoroughly demonstrates rhetoric devices that are taught in Jay Heinrich’s book Thank You For Arguing, which allows the audience to visualize what the producer of the documentary, Zachary Stauffer, is centrally focusing on. These tactics allow Stauffer and PBS to attempt to persuade the audience and viewers to believe in college athletes receiving some sort of salary. Through many examples of previous cases of challenges that have occurred within players, an intriguing argument is created that efficiently advances the reader from one scene to the next, examining and connecting one rhetoric device from another. Constantly inferred, “Why shouldn’t the players be payed? What’s the difference between a college athlete who spends as many hours per week as an employee that receives a base salary? How is this fair when the NCAA is benefitting off of billions of dollars from the player successes?” The documentary ends with the subtle question that creates a simplistic thought to leave the documentary with, “Why shouldn’t the players receive a piece of it?” In order to play a sport, they must sign a document that recognizes them individually as amateurs, which in a way, almost puts the players at the previous rules of being 18; you must obey the rules of your parents, just in this situation, the NCAA is the parent that each athlete must abide by in order to participate in the respective sport that they love.

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The NCAA Basketball. (2019, Jul 06). Retrieved from

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