By Roland S. Martin
March Madness is usually a wild and crazy time on the campuses of the nation’s big-time college basketball programs as fans wait in line for days for tickets to see their favorite collegiate do battle in the NCAA postseason tournament.
But if you’re a Connecticut Huskie fan, you’d better hope your team can have a magical run in the Big East tourney and qualify for an automatic bid because when it’s time for the 68 teams to be picked for the tournament in 2013, the 2011 national champs won’t be one of them.
After years of tolerating substandard graduation rates from its top basketball programs, the NCAA has finally stepped up and made it clear: If you don’t graduate your players, you don’t get to participate in the postseason.
The NCAA withstood withering criticism for years for extolling the virtues of their “student-athletes,” only to be exposed as a joke when graduation rates showed they were more athletes and less students.
As a result, the NCAA implemented the Academic Progress Rate, which required schools to score in a two-year period a 930, or a 900 over a four-year period.
When the NCAA measured the 2009-2010 season, Connecticut scored a paltry 826. A year later, the school won the men’s Big East and national title.
But that weak score meant the school was banned from the 2013 postseason. Connecticut asked for a waiver from the NCAA, citing its 975 score from the 2010-2011 season.
They were denied.
Undoubtedly, fans of the program and even others across the country will decry the NCAA ban, saying it’s unfair to penalize today’s Connecticut ballplayers for players from a previous year. But doesn’t the whole point of being a student-athlete mean you’re a student first and an athlete second?
Despite the longtime dreams of many of these ballplayers, most will never step foot on an NBA court.
Some may get to play professionally overseas, but the reality is that they’ll need that degree to advance themselves in a non-basketball career.
For too long, major college programs have paid lip service to academics. They worked with a kid long enough for him to qualify and too often pushed him into easy classes in order to score a decent grade to keep him on the basketball court. We’ve heard the horror stories for years, and they are true. These athletes are merely seen as free labor in a system that reaps millions and billions of dollars for the universities and the NCAA.
I don’t want to hear that nonsense about them getting a free education. When a school makes it clear that basketball comes first and academics second, you tell me who has the screwed up priorities?
For years, academic advocates have said that the only way to get schools to do right by the student-athletes is to hit them in the pocketbook. A school will willingly blow off a ban of a scholarship or two if it means competing for a national title. That was the first effort by the NCAA to get the coaches and university presidents’ attention.
It didn’t work.
Now, by banning a team from the postseason, rest assured that a coach, athletic director or university president does not want the embarrassment of being sidelined by poor graduation rates.
If you’re a Connecticut fan, go ahead and be upset with the NCAA for banning your school for failing to do its job in the classroom. Fine. Knock yourself out.
But if you really care about your school, and you say academics matter, a deplorable graduation rate is far more important in the long-term than whether you win a game or two on the basketball court.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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