grad basketball

Ready for March Madness? Filled out your bracket yet? I just finished mine.

I’ve come up with a foolproof, satisfaction-guaranteed system that I’m going to share with you, free of charge. It’s the byproduct of years of torn-to-shreds-by-first-Friday-night frustration. I’m done reading up on who’s got the most experienced backcourt. No more calculating coaches’ March winning percentages. Even my wondrous “Coin Flip Year” of 2007 (only for games with seed-spreads less than 6), which kept me in the running all the way through “Elite Eight” Thursday, is just a distant memory.

Wanna know my secret? I stopped picking who I thought would win based on athletic skills and started picking who I wanted to win based on, well, virtue.

I pick on principle, not basketball.

For some reason I can’t get this crazy notion of out my head that the “college” in college basketball actually means something. Ya know, like the old-school meaning of college, as in “1. institution of higher learning 2. a place where one earns an academic degree.

Too often, “college basketball” translates to “pre-NBA basketball” in the minds of many of the players, although that definition actually holds true for 1.2% of them. And for many of the institutions of higher learning, “college basketball” simply translates into dollar signs.

But lately, that quaint, traditional definition of “college” is getting more attention, thanks in large part to former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—who was the epitome of the true student athlete during his time as captain of his Harvard college basketball team.

Colleges are now facing greater scrutiny for their graduation rates and getting punished if they fall below a certain level.

We should put the college back in college basketball out of both a sense of integrity and a sense of plain economic justice.

College basketball players bring in millions of dollars to their universities. They deserve financial compensation in return. Part of that is their scholarship, of course. But that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on for the nearly 99% of non-NBAers if there’s no degree at the other end. That degree is the compensation the student athletes are owed. That particular piece of paper is worth $1 million over the course of a student’s lifetime.

And universities owe it to their student athletes to spend some of that basketball revenue on intensive support to help get them to the graduation stage. That should be part of the responsibility and part of the financial package. I’m proud that my alma mater, Marquette University, has an exemplary academic support program for its student athletes.

So that’s the system: the school with the higher graduation rate moves on*. This year, that looks like this:

tourney bracket

Feel free to steal it.

We won’t win the pool. But we’ll cheer—and lose—virtuously. No tearing required.

Hook ’em Horns!


*For tiebreakers, I went with the school with the higher APR (four-year average of academic performance that rewards student-athletes for remaining eligible as well as continuing their education at the same school.) There’s one super-tight clash of the titans—Duke vs. Holy Cross in the third round. Both have 100% grad rates and the same APR of 995. In that case, I went with Duke, purely subjectively, because I like that it’s a high-profile program—coached by Mike Krzyzewski, a fellow Pole from Chicago—that does things right. (Oh, and it’s the alma mater of my boss at Ed Post.)