March Gradness: NCAA brackets built on victories in the classroom, not the court

Are you picking Kentucky to win it all? Sure, the Wildcats may be undefeated on the court, but in Bridge Magazine’s bracket, Kentucky loses in the first round.

March Madness? No, it’s March Gradness.

What if people filled stadiums to cheer academic achievement? What if the college cutting down the nets was the school that gives low-income students the biggest break on tuition? Graduated the highest percentage of students? Or practiced gender pay equity?

Using federal data available from the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, Bridge created brackets illustrating how the NCAA men’s basketball tournament teams, announced Sunday, would fare if games were decided by factors more important than throwing a ball through a hoop.

Based on all-campus graduation rates (the percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree within six years), Harvard (97 percent) pounds Virginia (93 percent) in the national championship game. Notre Dame (95 percent) and Duke (92 percent) also made the Final Four.

Michigan State, the state’s only NCAA tournament team this year, lost in the first round to Georgia, 78 percent to 82 percent.

MSU does a lot better when games are decided by a school’s financial generosity to needy students. When considering the lowest average net cost for students with family incomes under $30,000, the Spartans make the Elite Eight. Low-income families with students attending MSU pay only $6,293 on average after financial aid is awarded. Harvard ($3,897) wins this bracket, too, defeating LSU ($5,049) in the championship game.

In the Gender Equity Bracket, Bridge compared the average salaries of male and female professors. The champion is named for a man, but is the only school with equal salaries for men and women, Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Check all the brackets below. We wouldn’t recommend you use them in your office pool, but we also don’t recommend choosing a college based on the quality of their basketball team.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 03/17/2015 - 8:44am
I have been trying to find out what the field of study is for the Kentucky basketball team but haven't been able to, does anyone know? (other than one and done of course). Win or lose I would expect most to withdraw from school soon after the NCAA tournament is over.
Tue, 03/17/2015 - 10:15am
Can somebody please explain to me why our society has no issues with such business icons as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg dropping out of college to make their millions, or entertainers such as Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford, or even certain athletes like Tiger Woods, but when football or basketball players do it they are judged negatively? Can anyone honestly say they would turn down a multi-MILLION dollar job offer if it meant having to quit college? And by the way, the Kentucky Basketball Team GPA is in excess of 3.1. I suspect higher than many fraternities and other groups of "students" on campus.
Tue, 03/17/2015 - 11:14am
I wonder what "classes" they were enrolled in. My guess is that it was not anything challenging, just something enough to keep their eligibility to play. This is a common game played at schools all over the country.
Tue, 03/17/2015 - 9:49am
NCAA continues to come under fire. There claims that less than 2% of college basketball and football athletes ever get a professional offer to play. They don't get paid to play they supposedly get a college education which for many is a joke. I taught college in 1971 and occasionally got pressured to change a grade so their athlete would qualify to play. It is a shame that some coaches are making one, two, three, four million to coach a sport. Way because they are a money machine. The average person cant afford to attend a game. I still like to watch them play but like many things in life it just isn't fair. R.L.
Tue, 03/17/2015 - 7:59pm
What if reporters learned how to write about academic success as others write about sports success? Mr. French writes about the school successes and failures much as the sports writers do about school athletic wins/losses. He and his peers fail to follow the sports writers when it comes to reporting individual student successes. The sports writers highlight athletes of the week, the month, the year in each sport. What reporter shows such interest in highlighting the individuals’ academics successes? Mr. French seems not to be impressed of Kentucky’s success and yet he touts Harvard for using the same approach for their success. Kentucky recruits those who best demonstrate skills and aptitude for the sport. Mr. French seems to overlook that Harvard graduation success is all about recruiting, as is Kentucky. If recruiting is discounted how schools compare? Why don’t we have academic ‘wins/losses’ and individual success reported like sports? I can hear all kinds of thinking of why this can’t be done, no academic competitions, no individual academic equivalents to sports, no public interest, no way to measure academic ‘wins/losses’, and so on. I wonder why there is so little interest in how it can be done. What if Mr. French and his peers were to try to understand why and how sports gain such visibility, might they discover how to create similar visibility for academics? Just as Mr. French has found ways to distill every point he wanted to make into a number and bracketed competition like sports, if he and others made an effort to create an equivalent for academics we might see a rise in interest in academic success. The reality is if we want to change academics in Michigan we have to be willing to change the way we look at academic successes and report on those students that succeed. Sports reporting is a place where kids and parents can get the idea of success and find role models for success. Why aren’t there reporters who want something similar for academics? If Mr. French would turn to the readers and ask them why and how academic reporting could be similar to sports reporting, he just might be surprised how things might change. How many fellow readers would like to see academics covered in the media similarly to sports, how many think that would enhance academics, how many believe it could be a means to having communities become supporters of local schools, it could help individual students to become motivated to succeed? How many readers would be willing to participate in a ‘Bridge' conversation about ways to elevate academics to similar awareness as K-12 sports?
Jack Minore
Tue, 03/17/2015 - 10:50pm
Just one small concern - in an otherwise enlightening article. The "6 year rule" for graduation rates is flawed, to a point. Today there are many students who - perhaps wisely - drop our tor a semester or two or more to work -- thus reducing their post graduate debt. In addition, many urban universities such as UM-Flint or Wayne State Univ are fine schools that produce excellent graduates: but they have a substantial number of part-time students who take more than the standard 4-6 years to obtain their degree. There is all too often too much emphasis on the 4-6 year standard for a variety of measurements.