CAPITOL—The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced today that it will once again change the format of the Hunger Games, the popular sporting event in which youth from Panem’s twelve districts fight to the death in a Capitol arena.
Since the games’ inception, each district has sent two tributes—one male and one female—to compete in the event. This year, for the first time, the NCAA will select seven “at-large” tributes. To make room for these additional competitors, the NCAA has added an Opening Round event involving the eight weakest tributes. The Opening Round winner will join the other 23 tributes (16 selected during the reaping and seven at-large tributes) in the Hunger Games, which the NCAA now refers to as “The Second Round of the Hunger Games.”
“There are so many young people who could outlast their peers in the Arena but are never given a chance to compete,” said NCAA spokesperson Plutarch Heavensbee. “The new format gives seven more young people an opportunity to bring honor and food rations to their district.”
Critics of the new format say that it is unfair that most of the tributes from lesser districts will die in a preliminary event and be denied the honor of being killed in the actual games. Heavensbee says such criticisms are misguided.
“The Opening Round is as much a part of the games as the main event,” says Heavensbee. “Historically, tributes from the high-number districts haven’t fared well in the games. The Opening Round gives these kids a chance to be a champion. Residents of District 12, for example, have watched most of their tributes die during the first few days of competition. Now they have a realistic chance every year of celebrating one of their own as a victor, at least until that victor dies at the hands of an at-large tribute from District 4 in The Second Round of the Hunger Games.”
The addition of an opening round is the latest of several changes the NCAA has made to the Hunger Games since taking over the event. The organization’s first move after acquiring the games was to outlaw Victors’ Villages. Until recently, former champions were treated to a house and a lifetime of provisions in a neighborhood in their district reserved for Hunger Games winners. In an official statement, the NCAA said that such luxuries were contrary to the mission of the games. “Tributes are amateurs,” the statement read, “not employees of the state or of their home districts. They compete on behalf of their districts, not for personal gain.”
The NCAA also maintains that, because tributes are not employees, the organization is not responsible for medical expenses related to injuries received during the Hunger Games.
Though victors are no longer allowed to accept homes, food, or other furnishings, the NCAA allows them to accept a full scholarship to the Capitol university of their choosing.
Capitol sportswriter Jeeson Whetlark blasted this decision at the time, writing, “A college scholarship is worthless to these kids. They’re going to go home to the fields or the factories or the mines. The NCAA tells these kids to kill or be killed, but it won’t even let the survivors accept a free meal. It’s a sham.” Whetlark hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
The NCAA’s other major reform was ending sponsorships. Prior to the NCAA’s acquisition of the Hunger Games, tributes would try to earn the favor of sponsors, wealthy residents of the Capitol who would provide the tributes food and supplies during the games. The NCAA now regulates the amounts of food, clothing, and medical supplies that a tribute can receive during competition and mandates that such provisions come only from the tribute’s district.
The NCAA recently forced last year’s victor, Ford Vancraft from District 6, to vacate his championship when the organization discovered that Vancraft had received a rain poncho from his AAU basketball coach. The NCAA is debating whether to award last year’s title to runner-up Elektra Watts from District 3, who was killed in the games by a rabbit muttation.
The Hunger Games, based on the first novel of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Game Trilogy, opens nationwide today.