Our strategy of predicting March Madness results based on teams' academic achievement faced its final exam last night, and—graded on a curve—we managed to swing a solid B.
The secret to our oracular mediocrity was making our predictions based on a metric called the Academic Progress Rate. The rate, calculated by the NCAA, measures whether team members are academically in good standing and on track to graduate. If a team averages below a 925 APR, which corresponds to roughly a 50 percent graduation rate, over several years, the NCAA can choose to impose penalties like reducing practice time, taking away scholarships and in extreme cases banning teams from postseason play.
Overall, men's basketball has the lowest APR of all NCAA sports, a fact that has received attention of late from, among others, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who urged stricter sanctions for teams that fail to ensure the academic progress of their student athletes.
While Butler had a perfect 1000 APR, Connecticut, the new national champions, have a multiyear APR of just 930, and a single-year APR of just 844. And they're not alone: About a dozen teams in this year's tournament have been sanctioned because of low progress rates.
The spoils of winning a national championship, including cash from the NCAA and licensing fees for the extra T-shirts that will no doubt be sold, will go to the University of Connecticut regardless. And this is what irks Duncan and other critics. Star Connecticut player Kemba Walker will almost certainly end up in the NBA, but many of his teammates will not. Will any of those spoils of victory be passed along to them? Or will they leave college without contracts, diplomas or prospects?
Matt Howard, the Butler star, will almost certainly not be playing professionally after he graduates this year. But with a 3.7 GPA and a finance major, the academic all-American will end his time as a student athlete with more than just memories.