COLLEGE basketball's premier championship event, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men's tournament, has emerged as one of the top attractions on the United States sports calendar. It delivered again this year, with "March Madness" culminating in a historic achievement as Duke University became the first repeat champion in 19 years (UCLA had a seven-year run ended in 1973).
The Blue Devils struggled a bit near the end of their 36-game season, but they displayed the heart of a champion down the stretch, beating Michigan's "Fab Five" freshmen 71-51 in the April 6 championship game in Minneapolis.
The whirlwind basketball playoff has soared in popularity, in part because of extensive TV coverage, a white-knuckle, single-elimination format, and a wide distribution of talented players.
The athleticism is so striking that after a while one may wonder, as a recent New York Times headline did, "Do Basketball Players Crack a College Book?" In the accompanying column, Ira Berkow made the point that the "glitzy" NCAA tournament rarely conveys any sense to television viewers that the players are students. He sees a golden opportunity here for spotlighting the educational connection by airing taped segments showing athletes in classrooms and talking about their educational experiences. The int ent would be to go deeper than simple stay-in-school messages.
This suggestion merits serious consideration, given ongoing efforts to reform college athletics, such as improving player graduation rates. Duke, by the way, sets a high standard in this area.
Another question bears asking, however: "Do basketball coaches ever teach a class?" Few do at the major-college level, which is a shame because it limits their standing as educators.
If the NCAA required all coaches to teach at least a class or two, what would the impact be? Coaches might begin to think of themselves as actual faculty members, possibly with tenure. If fired from coaching, they could retain teaching positions. This might lead to less cheating in recruiting, less time away from campus wooing high school prospects, and more integration into campus life.