A Modest March Proposal

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Dennis Garvin
Dennis Garvin

It is time for ‘March Madness.’  For those of you uninterested in college basketball, this is the time when the NCAA selects a large group of major and small universities to compete in the national collegiate basketball tournament.  While there are other tournaments (ex. NIT), no one disputes that the NCAA tournament is El Queso Grande.

Bear in mind, during my modest proposal, that this is college basketball; as in, played by students who are attending universities.  Most of us are aware that collegiate athletics, at least the big two of football and men’s basketball, are huge money-makers for the colleges.

We also know that, aside from scholarship money, none of these dollars trickle down to the players.  While a few of them go on to make huge salaries playing in the professional NBA, far more end up leaving college to take up a real job, just like the rest of us.

That said, it is reasonable to expect these schools to provide a reasonable education for the vast majority of student-athletes who will not engage in professional athletics.  Sadly, many university presidents and athletic directors are not educators; no, they are CEOs with more expertise in finance than in educating humans.

The NCAA demands that all athletes meet academic standards, as reflected in the Grade Point Average.  It is an open joke, however, how these schools provide ‘dumb jock’ courses to allow them to keep their athletes on the field or court.

I propose a melding of athletics and academics at the end of the sports season:  the NCAA should administer an exam, just at the end of the respective athletic season, but before the tournament selections (or the choice of bowl game bids, in the case of football).  This test should cover all the athletic disciplines of math, science, English, biology, history.

To set the bar at a reasonable level, we should make it equivalent to a 9th grade high school SOL (Standards-of- Learning) level.  I don’t think it onerous to expect these wealthy schools to provide their athletes with an education equivalent to the first year of high school.

Because these are, after all, team sports, the score that the school receives will be the average scored by the entire team (or just the first string, if the NCAA has trouble counting).  We then multiply that by the athletic performance (in basketball, for example, this can be RPI, total victories, or any other predetermined standard).

In order to compete in postseason play, a school’s team must score above a set level; let’s say that it would have to equal a passing grade for the non-athlete students in that university.  The sports purists will bellyache that this will disqualify the schools that are truly great athletically but academically marginal.  To this, I reply YES!  It is time the schools brought academic standards, on a team-wide basis, up to the point where the athlete who will never be a professional will still get a good education.

Sadly, you cannot appeal to the ethics of educational excellence when communicating with these administrators.  To get them to do what is right for the vast majority of their athletes, you need to threaten their bottom line.

Dennis Garvin