March Madness

Mike Jarvis, former men’s basketball coach at Boston University, St. John’s, and George Washington, writes in his Yahoo! column about the academic costs of division 1 basketball, particularly at tournament time. He recounts his GW team’s run in the NCAA tournament and the classes his players had to miss, along with the assistance provided by the univerisity (tutors, advisers, and administrators) to ameliorate the problem. He candidly admits that these measures were not full compensation for missed class time. He suggests having internet connections to live classes and class archives as solutions to the problem. He then laments that measures like this will not be taken because of money: “The rationale usually given is that it will cost too much, and if we do it for the men, then we have to do it for the women. What a great idea. Why not do it for both?”

I hope that colleges would take steps like this. It doesn’t seem that hard or costly. It would be really bad if colleges wouldn’t do it because they don’t want to do it for women, too.

That having been said, Jarvis points to money as the problem in the wrong way. The problem isn’t the cost of helping athletes keep up with their classes. The problem is the desire of the NCAA and its member institutions to earn money from weekday TV broadcasts. According to, CBS pays about $545 million per year to televise the NCAA tournament games. That’s serious money, enough to pull some excellent academic institutions into athletic schedules that not only take athletes away from class, but also make it effectively impossible to study certain subjects (particularly lab science classes).

Real remedies for this problem go way beyond the Internet solution proposed by Jarvis. It would be naive to think that the NCAA and its members will give up this cash flow anytime soon, so athletes will continue to miss classes and find it impossible to take others. College athletes therefore ought to get extra guaranteed years of scholarship assistance (including room and board) after eligibility expires so they can take classes that were impossible during their playing years. Alternatively, they could receive money that could be spent on tuition (or something else – maybe grad school?) after their playing days. Sports Illustrated proposed an athletes’ bill of rights in a recent story on college sports (particularly Ohio State).

I’m not optimistic that reforms like this will happen soon. For all the good that they do, the NCAA and its member institutions seem bent on growing the commercial enterprise of college sports. As self-professed educators first, they ought to do more to ensure the academic success of the talent that makes all that money possible.

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4 Responses

  1. skooby says:

    I’m surprised George Washington can’t afford something like this, given that their undergrad is the most expensive in the country. Huh.

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    This is not a problem related only to the NCAA tournament. When Penn State plays a Wednesday-night mid-season basketball game at Iowa (or Boston College plays at Miami or Nebraska at Texas), the road team leaves on Tuesday morning and gets back to campus around 1 a.m. Thursday morning. That is two full days of classes missed. Plus, how likely is it that even the most committed student will make it to a 9 a.m. Thursday class if he got back to his room at 1 and maybe got to sleep by 2?

    But unless schools adopt the Ivy League Friday night/Saturday night travel-partner model, I am not sure how the problem can be avoided.

  3. JoeMerc says:

    The problem of college sports interfering to academics is not a new one. Though this post is about college hoops particularly, the problem is even more pronounced in big time college football. If anyone is interested in a good read, I suggest “Beer and Circus” by Murray Sperber.

    The NCAA constantly tries to portray the “student athlete” image, which is so far from a reality it makes me sick. I went to a big time basketball school and had a lot of contact with the players, several of which are now in the NBA. I had a class with one of them. When he didn’t show up for a while I asked him about it. His response was “I’m not here to go to class, I’m here to play basketball.” Which really isn’t too far from the truth.

    Big time college sports are basically the minor leagues for the pros. Players are there to eventually make money playing their sport professionally, either in the US or abroad. My proposal is this: why continue the cherade? Why force these kids to go to classes they don’t want to take and do homework they don’t want to do when it’s patently obvious that they’re not at school to learn. Granted this is a gross generalization, and there are a lot of athletes who use their scholarships wisely. The schools make too much money from these TV contracts to throw it all away by losing stud recruits because of academic requirements. Why don’t we just accept the reality as it is?

  4. anita says:

    this is the stupidest website EVER!!!