NCAA's true March Madness: not paying the players

Jon Peters, of Ohio, gets in the spirit Jon Peters, of Ohio, gets in the spirit of March Madness before a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament between Ohio State and Dayton in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Robert Kirkham

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Ellis Henican Newsday columnist Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and

From 64 to 16 to 4 to 1: You can tear up your NCAA brackets right now. We already know who's winning this year.

The top-tier college coaches with their seven-figure salaries. The TV networks with their $700,000 Final Four 30-second spots. The sneaker companies, the five dominant conferences, the Las Vegas sports books, the cocktailing alumni, the cheering sports-bar fans and especially a $6-billion-a-year cash cow known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

So who's been missing from big-time college athletics' golden embrace? Oh, right. Them. The players who shoot, pass, leap, dribble, dunk and score for our repeated amusement, risking career-ending injuries on every play. They still don't receive a nickel in salary for all their talent, dedication and hard work.

Shouldn't the players get something more than scholarships? Don't we have antitrust laws and a minimum wage? Paying them nothing while everyone else rakes it in -- that's the real March Madness here.

But it could finally change.

Labeling top college basketball and football players "unlawful chattel," a new federal lawsuit calls into question the whole idea of amateur athletics at the powerhouse schools.

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There is great affection for these traditions and misty recollections of the past. But once the arguments are laid out clearly beside the dollar signs, does anyone still believe the old way can survive?

That's what's called a sucker's bet.

@Newsday

GAME FACE

1. Go pro.

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2. Unionize.

3. Take the money under the table.

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4. Sue 'em.

5. Work for free.

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LONG ISLANDERS OF THE WEEK: MASSAPEQUA CHEERLEADERS

They're the unsung athletes of high school, the cheerleaders. Their sport requires just as much athleticism and produces just as many injuries as football or basketball. But college scholarships? Going pro? Many cheerleading squads don't even get a school-bus ride to the game. So three cheers -- make it 33 -- for Coach Lisa Battistoni and her Massapequa High School cheerleaders, taking home their first-ever national championship at the National Cheerleaders Association High School Open (Medium Intermediate Division) in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 22. And sorry we're getting this news to you a solid month late. Cheerleaders never get the respect they deserve.

Email ellis@henican.com

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