ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The tournament that began with the lure of a billion-dollar bracket will end at a billion-dollar stadium outside of Dallas.
Big as March Madness and the Final Four have become, they’re not big enough to blot out the storm clouds on the horizon. The NCAA has issues looming — among them, the possible unionization of players and a lawsuit challenging the NCAA’s ban on paying players.
If the NCAA loses either case, it would threaten almost everything. That includes its most lucrative and intoxicating event: The basketball tournament, which is celebrating best-in-a-generation TV ratings, a record number of overtime games and a staple of big-name programs in the Final Four — Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Kentucky.
“If the NCAA loses, you’ve opened a Pandora’s box that will generate problems, questions and concerns for decades,” says Arthur Miller, the chairman of New York University’s Sports and Society program. “It may be the end of the NCAA. It certainly will reduce the power of the NCAA.”
For the last three weeks, the NCAA’s sway over America has been strong as ever.
The average 9.8 million viewers are the highest in 21 years. The 6.2 rating is tied with last season as the best for the tournament since 2005.
The NCAA’s 14-year, $10.8 billion TV contract made every game available on a national telecast and there was plenty to watch, including a record-tying seven overtimes and about as many games that came down to a made or missed shot at the buzzer.
Meanwhile, Warren Buffett’s offer of $1 billion to anyone who could fill out a perfect bracket served to bring more casual fans into the mix. Nobody won the billion.
But the billions really at stake are those the NCAA distributes to its member schools from the TV deal. That cash makes the system run, and it is in limbo while the unwieldy organization, made up of 351 schools with very different missions, tries to resolve issues on several fronts.