March Madness and Education. Huh?

The hoopla that surrounds the NCCA basketball finals is an essentially permanent characteristic of the contemporary collegiate experience. It’s like pro sports, but slightly less banal and corporate, which means that there is much more potential for people to enjoy and feel connected to it.

I get it, that’s great. What I find troublesome about this period is the weird way that education policy people attempt to piggyback on this popular pastime by using it as a platform to discuss super unpopular and complicated policy efforts. The real problem might not have anything to do with education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who actually used to be a college basketball player, is one of the worst violators. Maybe hoops was a game for him while he played for Harvard, but he surely must realize that it is far more than a game for the student-athletes in the NCAA. This year he breaks out, yet again, his annual college basketball graduation rate mantra.

Today he tweeted:

13 teams in the men’s #NCAA tournament won’t qualify going forward unless they improve academically. And that’s the way it should be.

Universities can’t use athletes just to make money, investing in their education is a moral imperative. #NCAA

Congratulations to the 30 men & women March Madness teams with 100% graduation rates. #NCAA

Thank you @NCAA Pres. Emmert & Univ. Presidents for your leadership and moral courage to raise the bar on #NCAA academics.

In 2010 he proposed that that schools that graduated less than 40 percent of basketball players shouldn’t be eligible to participate in the tournament. Last year he suggested 50 percent. This year I was expecting 60 percent, just for consistency. I mean Come-on Arne, haven’t you gotten a memo from Michelle at least, that tells you to chill? I mean her Brother surely understands what is up with College hoops recruiting. 

It perhaps makes sense to use the basketball tournament to force schools to improve their completion rates, but this particular focus on the graduation rate of the men’s basketball team seems somewhat weird. Like alternate universey weird.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems to me that star players at major basketball powerhouses don’t drop out for the normal reasons students drop out, like the finances and poor preparation for college.

In fact, star basketball players seem to drop out mostly because the National Basketball Association has a rule that requires draft applicants to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school. This essentially forces the students to go to college, whether they really want to or not. This particular rule makes it fairly difficult for colleges to promote meaningful academic standards.

Students drop out because they think they can make money playing basketball, for a living. And, as basketball players, that’s pretty much exactly what they want to do. Why stick around to finish that bachelor’s degree in geography? Is that economically rational? Aren’t they ready to move on? Can’t we drop the BS and call it what it is? My buddy, Gary Radnich thinks that NCAA hoops players ought to get paid … like a $100K/year.

Why would basketball players think another two years in college would make them dramatically better prepared for life beyond college, especially if the only reason they went to college was to play basketball after college?

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About Steve King

iPeopleFINANCE™ Chief Operating Officer. Former CEO of Endymion Systems, Inc. a $36m Information Systems Services company. Co-founder of the Cambridge Systems Group, the creator of ACF2, the leading IBM Mainframe Data Center Security product; acquired by Computer Associates. IBM, seeCommerce, marchFIRST, Connectandsell alumni. UC Berkeley alumni. View all posts by Steve King

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