Incentivize Big Dance to Improve Academics
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reportedly wants to ban teams from the NCAA men's basketball tournament for poor academic performance, according to ABC News. While Duncan doesn't feel he can compel schools to comply with this idea, he intends to urge them to do so.
The move, should it be applied to this year's Big Dance, would rule out
No. 1 seed University of Kentucky (my alma mater), the University of Louisville (also from my home state; what a proud moment for me) and the University of Tennessee (probably tainted by its long border with my home state) and at least nine other teams, based on low graduation rates alone.
If the Obama administration were serious about this initiative (which it isn't), surely the Department of Education could come up with a disincentive package that would turn the heads of university presidents.
Allow me to suggest a few options. First, why not name an Academic Champion of the NCAA tournament? Give the school with the highest graduation rate/average GPA to reach the tournament a banner, a trophy and a cash prize.
Sure, it would be like the Miss Congeniality award, given to the nicest beauty queen. It means you're going to lose the real competition but it reminds the other ladies that personality counts for something. If beauty pageants can do it to beneficial effect, why not college basketball tournaments?
Second, how about doing a little computer model in which each team is given an academic ranking. The rank would be based on something like: graduation rate, average team GPA and average starting five GPA. When the selection committee does its thing, work out which teams would reach the final four and which team would win the tournament based on these scores. It would be fun and it would provide some recognition for quality academic performance.
Third, why not set an academic standard--a certain graduation rate combined with a certain average GPA (factor in playing time, otherwise teams will add some bench-warming rocket scientists to pad their numbers). Of those teams that meet this minimum threshold, the one that goes the furthest in the tournament wins a cash prize for its school.
And why not make this cash prize equivalent to the prize the actual winner takes home? Doesn't that make sense? Aren't institutions of higher education about... education?
If you incentivize the tournament in this way, university presidents would take notice. It would force them to seek out great scholars who are also great athletes, thereby doubling their chances to take home the gold.