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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My NCAA Bracket Thoughts (Well, sort of)

If our president can take time to think about the men's NCAA basketball tournament, so can I...

Well, honestly, I only sort of think about it.  Beyond rooting for Harvard, which didn't work out so well, I can't claim to watch much, or be anywhere close to an expert on, college hoops. But I have been thinking about several NCAA sports stories lately.  Here's my round-up of the college sports issues that are on my mind.

1) Harvard basketball-  We were oh-so-close to the dance. It was heartbreaking to watch The Crimson lose in the final 3 seconds on Saturday-- and to my other alma mater, Princeton! I've always preferred crimson to orange (orange is just not in my color family), plus my paycheck comes from Cambridge. But both teams shared the Ivy League title this year, capping off an historic season for Harvard.  The magic didn't continue; but, who knows, maybe someday we'll see two Ivy teams together in the tournament for the first time?  Unfortunately, in the end, Harvard didn't help its case that it should have gotten a bid, performing poorly in the NIT tournament last night (the first time they'd ever been invited). So, I must say, "Go Tigers!, on Thursday.  Obama didn't pick you (despite the First Lady's ['85] urging, I'm sure), and you're considered serious underdogs, but draw strength remembering your upset in 1996-- wonderfully chronicled in Time this week. But, with all the key Crimson players returning next year, along with what is supposed to be a fantastic recruiting class, I hope we'll find ourselves rooting instead for the Crimson in March 2012, ending the 68-year tournament-appearance drought.

2) NCAA female vs. male basketballers' graduation rates-Well, the women win the battle, at least when it comes to performance in the classroom. A recent study out of University of Central Florida found that the schools representing the women's teams in this year's NCAA tournament graduate more team members than the men do. There are a lot of factors here-- race, level of competitiveness, women's documented superior classroom performance in other realms-- but as the men get all the attention, it's worth noting that more of the female scholar-athletes are living up to both parts of their hyphenated designation.

3) Stanford's "easy class list"- Then again, as this USA Today article suggests, both male and female scholar-athletes sometimes get some academic breaks in college. Apparently Stanford, until very recently, maintained a list of "easy" classes that it gave to athletes. The university explains that the courses were scheduled at convenient times for athletes, in between practices.  But, with names like "Social Dances of North America," I'm guessing more was going on than scheduling. Alas, is it really surprising that courses from my discipline of sociology made the cut? If you're interested in reading more about different academic standards and performances for collegiate athletes, I recommend reading Shulman and Bowen's extremely detailed (though now slightly dated) and informative The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values. Can any of my Cardinal readers confirm the existence of this "easy" class list (one ESPN commentator, and a former softball player at Stanford had this to say)? I'm not sure there's anything terribly wrong with it, especially if it would be offered to any student (even a non-athlete) who asked for it. What do others think?

On a final note, to sooth myself after the Harvard-Princeton game in New Haven on Saturday, I decided it was time to finally watch a documentary I'd been meaning to screen-- Harvard Beats Yale 29-29I'd heard and read lots of great things about it, so I went in expecting a lot and I was definitely disappointed. The story is naturally full of drama (even if there is no suspense, given that you know the outcome based on the infamous title), but I didn't think it was produced well. I also would have loved to have seen all the former players get together for a reunion. Certainly the most entertaining, and despicable, character is Mike Bouscaren (you can read a bit about him in this Newsweek review), a Yalie who deliberately tried to physically injure players, taking one out of the game-- though his memory is a bit faulty (turns out that injured player [Hornblower] is the father of a classmate who lived in my freshman year entryway).  I haven't yet read the book version, but suspect that might be better. In any case, it is fun to see all the connections to famous people through the players in this game (Tommy Lee Jones was an All-Ivy player on the team who roomed with Al Gore, another Yalie roomed with George W. Bush, another dated Maryl Streep, and the Yale quarterback Brian Dowling was the inspiration for B.D. in the comic Doonesbury) and to hear more about life on campus in the 1960s.

But, this week, I think the NCAA basketball games (for both the men and the women!) will prove to be better entertainment than Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. Go Tigers!


  1. On the male-female grad rates, my simple (and probably not entirely correct) explanation would be: Men's bball is a cash cow for the university. Women's bball is not. The university has a big incentive to accept academically marginal boy basketball prospects as freshmen, while the university doesn't have this incentive for girl players.

  2. Yes, I think that's right-- and being academically marginal is tied up in other sorts of socioeconomic issues.

    Girls also just generally perform better, as a group, on these sorts of measures than boys do. Would be interesting to see a breakdown by GPA or major/concentration.

  3. There's little reason to think that sports ability and academic ability are positively correlated. [I'm aware of the finding that participating in organized sports helps some high school and college athletes with their work ethic / time management / academic performance, but I doubt that there is a correlation > 0 across the whole population.] So if you want to identify the best boy basketball players out of the whole population of teenagers, many of them will not be well-qualified for college work.

    Then you identify the SES issue. It could be that the poor urban population tends to be the biggest source of men's basketball stars (for biological or sociological reasons). I don't know if that's actually true, but that is definitely the popular perception. If that's true, then it could be that these kids are bad at academics because they're poor and good at basketball because they're poor.

    But I'm BSing here without any data!

  4. Last month on ESPN there was a 2 hour show hosted by Bob Ley on the status on the africanamerican athlete in college sports.Jalean Rose one the fab five from unv.of michigan stated college athletes are really semi-pros and not true student at one time the NCAA had 16 then 32 then 64,now 68 it all revolves around the green dollar.
    John Clapari and Spike Lee stated for the black athlete either hit a 3 pointer, be a big kineman and play football or sell drugas in the ghetto. A sad commentary.

    A recent ESPN 2 hour show i=on the fab five show chris webers #$ jersey was being sold at a store in ann arbor for $75.00 and he at that time needed lunch and clothes money. The NCAA earns billions for all its teams from tv contract etc.

    Harvard wins 29-29 makes more sense in true student-athlete coleg competetion;plus women know they can only play basketball in pros after college and need their educations.

    sorry Dr. Leveyfriedman the tigers of princeton will not go very far. Their players are too smart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. I keep hearing about the Fab 5 doc-- I need to see it.

  6. doc has it taped

    check espn they may be showing it again
    it was a 2hour special om march 13 thus it maybe on again

    alas i may keep it as i taped it

    go tigers but i think it is the year of ohio state or duke again