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Congratulations to the Washington University men’s basketball team. They are the national Division III NCAA champions. At the Division III level there is no scholarship money. There is barely enough money for basketball basics, such as uniforms and travel expenses. A large part of the fan base is made up of family and friends. Teams can go a whole season without convening a post-game or even a pre-game press conference. Off the court, the Washington University team is distinguished by its level of academic achievement. The team grade point average is 3.4. I doubt that there are any easy-jock courses at Wash U, tailored to helping team members boost their GPA. All of which got me to thinking.
What if, after the NCAA national tournament for Divisions I and II are over, another basketball tournament were held? Only this time, the brackets would be filed out based on team grade point averages, not the won/lost record. To make it fair the calculations would have to go out to two or three decimal places, but just as in the current format, the top seed would play the bottom seed in the first round. A team with a 3.989 GPA would do battle with a 3.458 team. The NCAA, known for its attention to academic integrity, would drop all “jock courses” from the GPA computations of each school.
As the NCAA Division I Men’s National Basketball tournament moves forward, there is every likelihood that fans will be watching teams, where less than 50 percent of the players will graduate with a degree. During the commercial breaks, the Universities try valiantly to send the message that most student athletes will not become professional athletes. Med school recruiters are shown seated in the stands scouting out prospects for med school. Is it just an accident that the sport chosen to make the inspiring point is women’s field hockey? If there ever is an academic hoops tournament, here are my picks for the final four: Wash U, of course, followed by MIT, Penn, and Stanford.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.