A Different Approach to NCAA Bracketology

NCAA Bracket - Men Final

It’s the best time of the year for college basketball fans. But this morning, while most of us have been buzzing about Thursday’s Butler and Iowa State upsets, a surprise from UCLA and a near-win by Harvard, we also need a conversation to make sure these players aren’t losing out on a complete college experience. While we are cheering on our favorite teams, we should remember what it’s really all about for these student-athletes: getting a great education while chasing their dreams.

A few years ago, the NCAA raised academic benchmarks for teams to meet postseason play. While more should be done to make sure that all student-athletes – especially African-Americans – are learning both on and off the court, this was a good start toward restoring a healthier balance between academics and athletics in Division I college sports. But it was just a start.

As we were filling out our brackets, we decided to take a different approach. We thought it would be interesting to look at how teams would fare if the outcome of each match was determined by how well an institution is equipping its student-athletes to be successful in the classroom – and ultimately, to be successful after the final game.

Earlier this week, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida (UCF) released its annual study, “Keeping Score When It Counts: Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” It is a comprehensive analysis of the academic performance of student-athletes on teams playing in the tournament. We built our brackets based on how teams fared in the report – first, based on the team’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) as reported by the NCAA, and in cases of a tie, by first the Graduation Success Rate of their basketball team and then the overall Graduation Success Rates of their student-athletes.

For many fans, these results may be a bit of a stretch. But it shows which teams may be doing a better job about making sure their athletes are students, first.

That’s a Cinderella story we can all get behind.

Download the NCAA women’s bracket based on academic performance

Download the NCAA men’s bracket based on academic performance

Sara Gast is Director of Strategic Communications at the U.S. Department of Education.

1 Comment

  1. I so appreciate an article of this magnitude. Students often get lost in the anticipation of where a school’s sports program is ranked in order to determine their personal interest for attendance. The emphasis is more on their athletic ability opposed to their aptitude as a student. I applaud you for this article…we celebrate and applaud athleticism, but the focus really should be on the academics since most students won’t have a future in post-collegiate athletic programs that will be able to support them or their families. I am definitely sharing this article with the middle school students I teach!

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