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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/17/2010

March Madness: What's the academic effect?

By Valerie Strauss

With the recent hysteria about kids missing school because of snow, it seems appropriate to look at the effect March Madness has on academics at the 65 colleges invited to the basketball tournament and others where students are equally obsessed.

A nationwide independent poll funded and conducted by me strongly suggests that during the three-week NCAA championship tournament, many classes will be cancelled, the minds of many students will wander and very little in the way of schoolwork will get done on numerous campuses over the next few weeks.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s part of an article in The Observer, an independent newspaper serving Notre Dame and St. Mary’s, written by Andy Ziccarelli:

Since we are in college, I think that it is pretty safe to say that St. Patrick’s Day is one of the best days, if not the best day, of the year. What if, however, I could tell you that it gets even better? God has granted us the perfect two-day follow up to the best party day of the year, and it comes in the form of even more energy, adrenaline and excitement than St. Patty’s Day. This event will cause people to skip class for the rest of the week, and for the dedicated students who will actually attend class, their attention will be likely be consumed by it. (As a warning to any professors: if anyone has their laptops open in class on Thursday and Friday, they aren’t taking notes. They aren’t even paying attention to you at all). Many, including myself, would say that these next two days are the best of the entire year. Yes, March Madness has finally arrived.

Then there is Scott Minto, program director for San Diego State University’s Sports Business MBA program. He’s already cancelled classes for the first day of the tournament, in which SDSU is seeded 11th in the Midwest Region.

He knows nobody wants to show up, he said, and he thinks that’s just fine, because he doesn’t want to teach, either.

A first-round win, he said, would boost morale at the school--part of the California university system that has been battered by state budget cuts--as well as provide a financial boost.

It’s well known that the three-week NCAA tournament is big business, providing revenue to the NCAA, which in turn shares it with the schools involved. In fact, the NCAA has a $6 billion deal over 11 years with CBS to broadcast the games, which provide free publicity for all of the colleges and universities.

Those event effects have been studied extensively. But nobody (besides me) has researched how much academic work does or doesn’t get done during the tournament, Minto said.

What does that say to you about the importance of athletics in higher education?


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 17, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Higher Education  | Tags:  march madness, ncaa tournament  
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Taken from "the free dictionary" online:

mad·ness (mdns)
1. The quality or condition of being insane. See Synonyms at insanity.
2. Great folly: It was sheer madness to attempt the drive during a blizzard.
3. Fury; rage.
4. Enthusiasm; excitement

I think that the first two definitions sum up the "logic" of March Madness.

Please report on some of the amounts of student fees are diverted to sports. Those ugly dollar amounts students must dole out at the beginning of each new semester have multiplied greatly over the years. Yet, how old are some of those microscopes? I've seen some dorms that are in dire need of renovations for the sake of safety.

Simply put, look at the salaries of the coaching staff and then compare them to the teaching staff to see where higher ed priorities shifted. Nothing, nothing can justify the multi-million dollar annual salaries of some university coaches. Aside from the salaries, there are salaries of support staff and costs of equipment, transportation, scouting, facilities, refs, cleanup, police during events, parking staff, etc.

Let's not forget the injuries related to highly competitive sports and the short and long term (sometimes life) costs in both dollars and pain and suffering. Alzheimer's too!

Go intramurals.

Furthermore, sports in the public high school system has become a major leech in the quest for advancement of academic excellence.

Valerie, consider this..... in all of Arne Duncan's verbage of race to the top, there is plenty of misguided logic. First, until high school principals, and assistant principals, are freed from the communities' demand that they be the head cheerleaders for their schools' sports teams, real change is greatly hindered. The time devoted to tending to sporting events is enormous and there are only so many hours in the day. So, high school administrators who may otherwise desire to devote time, effort, and energy to glorious planning/evaluation to ensure optimal academic growth for both students and teachers must burn plenty of midnight oil to be authentic academic leaders.

Posted by: shadwell1 | March 17, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

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