OpEd Columns


Try This With NCAA Brackets: Seeding By Graduation Rates (Indianapolis Star 4/5/08)

In case you missed it, some scores from the NCAA Basketball Championships. Duke 67, West Virginia 33. Kansas State 67, USC 23. Marquette 89, Kentucky 23. Notre Dame 91, Washington State 35.

What, you didn’t see those games on CBS?

Actually those aren’t basketball scores, but Graduation Success Rates (GSR) for men’s basketball programs, calculated by the NCAA.

The GSR counts diplomas. But no one counts the GSR during March Madness.  It’s not a statistic scoured by Billy Packer at halftime.

“Jim, you can see turnovers, rebounds, and field goal percentage are about even. But look at the disparity in graduation rate. Clearly the Tigers have overcome a huge discrepancy in graduating their players, with some pure athleticism in the transition game.”

“Billy, what are your keys to the second half?”

“NCAA, Jim. Nobody Cares About Academics. Just keep feeding the post, look for fast break buckets, and forget about that midterm next week.”

Think again. The amateur athletes wearing Nike head-to-toe, playing basketball in four-minute spurts between a series of $1.25 million commercials, actually carry backpacks during the week.

Some with books in them. And that one shining moment is made up of thousands of dull minutes studying subjects foreign to the average  6’9” power forward.

The life of a true student athlete is a grueling gig of mental and physical fatigue. 

Try studying the principles of Immanuel Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals for a philosophy exam, finishing a ten-page report on Colonialism in South Asia while simultaneously practicing how to break Tennessee’s 1-2-1-1 full court press.

Play forty minutes of physical Big East basketball, sleep on a cramped plane back to campus, wake up for an 8 a.m. lecture in Contemporary British Drama, and try to take good notes.

Conquering Connecticut and Calculus in the same week is tough. But beating the Huskies and flunking the final isn’t an option.

At least it shouldn’t be.

Universities are in the education business. It’s their obligation to educate and graduate students. Schools that fail to graduate at least half of their basketball players are dropping the ball and benefiting from it.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee rewards them with number one seeds.

23 of this year’s 65 schools couldn’t graduate 50 percent of their players, including three of the top four seeds (Memphis 40%, UCLA 40%, Kansas 45%).

Imagine the managers of a General Motors plant that completed 45 percent of the cars that started down its factory line. A 200,000 square foot Wal-Mart stocked to 40 percent capacity. A McDonalds sign that read “Over 35 Percent Served”.

Or a Division I men’s basketball coach with a 7-21 record.

Fired. Fired. Fired. Fired.

It’s time for the NCAA to not only report the Graduation Success Rates, but actually use them in seeding their championship tournaments.

The NCAA should seed tournaments first by performance on the court, and second by performance in the classroom. For bracketology buffs, add the GSR to RPI and SOS to decipher those sexy seeds on Selection Sunday.

Schools with a GSR of 25 percent or less should drop two seeds. If you can’t graduate 3 of 12 players, shame on you. You’re lucky to be in the tournament. UNLV missed the Sweet Sixteen this year but made the Flunking Fifteen with a 15 percent graduation success rate.

Graduate 26-49 percent of your players and drop one seed. Top-seeded Memphis and Kansas fall to number two seeds.  Second-seeded Tennessee (33%) and Texas (33%) slide to number three seeds.

Schools with a GSR of 50-84 percent stay seeded as normal. Graduating 10 of 12 players should be the standard.

Finally, schools that graduate 85-100 percent of their players, gain one seed. This year, that’s eleven of the 65 teams.

Imagine next year’s online bracketology chat sessions.

“Joe, look at the last four recruiting classes. The Wildcats only have three college graduates out of a possible twelve. Great season on the court. Bad four years in the classroom. Expect that number one seed to turn into a three seed when the brackets are announced.”

Add the GSR to the championship equation and the NCAA rewards schools for diligence, athletes for perseverance, and sends a message that “college” has a place in college basketball.

Those are the seeds we should be planting each March.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2008 Ted Mandell