As the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, got underway this past Thursday, there was one moment that caught the attention of many. Not a great play or a last minute shot to send an underdog team on to the next round, rather a legendary coach laying into one of his freshman players during the first game of the tournament.
Tom Izzo, who has been the head coach at Michigan State since 1995, was reaming his player Aaron Henry during a timeout. At one point, a few Spartan players stepped in and attempted to calm Izzo down. The 15 seconds or so that ended up going viral on Twitter and on the majority of the Madness highlights for the weekend made plenty of people upset. A lot of people questioned the treatment of Izzo’s player and his temper getting the best of him.
Why does it matter to those people?
In Izzo’s post game speech, he talked to the media about how it really comes down to players being held accountable. “What’s wrong with challenging a kid that makes some mistakes? Aaron Henry — trust me — did some things that you can’t do as a starter on a top-5 team at the end of your freshman year. They were effort-related.”
Who knows that Michigan State team and what those players can give better than Tom Izzo does? Nobody. It’s a bit asinine that Izzo and Henry are having to answer endless questions about what happened because other people are butt hurt about it.
Athletes, coaches, students, journalists, teachers, bus drivers — everyone in every job they hold should be held accountable for actions and effort. For sports, plenty of athletes resonate with different coaching styles. You think that someone who was thoroughly recruited by a certain coach isn’t prepared to play for that coach? You think in do-or-die games, players aren’t going to be held to the highest standards?
The amount of people who complained about the way Izzo was berating his player was laughable — how does it affect you? The opinions that matter in that game and what happened are Izzo, other coaches, Henry and the other players on the team. Not to mention, I don’t think too many people other than the people in the walls of the Michigan State basketball program know what the standards are for Aaron Henry.
No one but those coaches and players know what he is capable of contributing to their team, and there is no issue with someone be held to their standards. How that coach goes about it — I’m sure he knows what his players need. If he’s going overboard? He’s got senior players who have been in the program long enough and have learned enough about leadership to take the onus and get through to their teammate themselves.
While sports isn’t all about winning, these are high performance competitive athletes, with coaches whose jobs aren’t safe unless they find a way to win games into late March. Whether it’s a two-seed playing a 15-seed or an eight-seed playing a nine-seed — these players aren’t here to play soft or to take games off. Just the same as someone who teaches or runs a company doesn’t take days off from being accountable to the position they hold.
While watching March Madness, there is another thing that still amazes me — millions of people are watching this tournament closely, filling out brackets, placing bets on who will survive for the next round. The amount of attention and money the tournament brings to schools, players, coaches and programs — the athletes should be making some money. I’m not saying they should be getting ridiculous amounts of money, but the number of stories there are of athletes who still have a hard time being able to buy groceries during the week or whatever it might be — there is no reason for that.
Of the four one-seeds this NCAA tournament, Mike Kryzewski at Duke makes over $8 million, Tony Bennett at Virginia makes over two million, Roy Williams at North Carolina makes close to four million in total compensation, and Gonzaga coach Mark Few makes almost two million. Other coaches, such as Bill Self (Kansas) and John Calipari (Kentucky) are also making millions of dollars a year.
Let’s not even get into the figures that collegiate football coaches are making — including assistant coaches at a number of schools.
I understand the argument against paying players for the purposes of what amateurism is and what that means. But these players aren’t in an amateur sports environment. In many instances, college sports are more popular than some professional teams in some areas of the United States.
There are a plethora of athletic departments that in football and/or basketball alone are making tens of millions of dollars.
Why can’t the athletes get some additional stipend? Many of their coaches get performance bonuses, for making the NCAA tournament, winning their regular season conference, winning their conference tournament, and so forth. Why not find a way to compensate the players for at least some of their work throughout the season? Give a stipend to players whose teams make the NCAA tournament, or for winning conference tournaments. The players, after all, are the ones who have to win games.