Student Achievement

Who Would Win the NCAA Tournament Based on Academic Performance?

By Bryan Toporek — March 18, 2011 2 min read
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Chalk this up under the “Agh, Why Didn’t I Think of This Idea First?” category.

Both ProPublica and Inside Higher Ed have given March Madness an academic twist by filling out their traditional NCAA tournament brackets based on which schools’ athletes perform better in the classroom.

To determine who advanced in each round, both groups used the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, a metric developed by the NCAA in 2005 that measures whether or not student-athletes remain on track to graduate. (I can only imagine they took the APR data for the NCAA tournament teams from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ report, “Keeping Score When It Counts,”

) that I wrote about yesterday.

To calculate APR, each player on a given roster earns a maximum of 2 points per school term—one for being academically eligible, one for staying with his/her school (i.e., not transferring/leaving early to turn professional). A team’s total APR score is the total points of a team’s roster divided by the total points possible. Long story short, an APR of 925 roughly equates to a team having 50 percent of its players on track to graduate.

To break ties between schools, Inside Higher Ed used the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate, which doesn’t punish teams for students who leave college before graduation, so long as those students left in good academic standing.

So, who ended up as the 2011 NCAA tournament’s academic champion? None other than the Butler University Bulldogs, who, as you may remember, came within a missed half-court shot of winning the real kit and kaboodle last year.

The academic Final Four would be made up of Butler, the University of Kansas, the University of Texas at Austin, and Princeton University.

Olga Pierce of ProPublica makes an astute observation about the disparity of rankings, however. “The schools that have the highest academic ranking overall often have less-than-stellar records with the performance of student-athletes. This raises the question: Are the best schools best for all their students, or are student-athletes being left behind?”

And it seems that my alma mater was trying to prove her point. Georgetown (APR of 937, ranked 21st by U.S. News & World Report) would be waxed in their first game by Virginia Commonwealth University (APR of 975, ranked 167th by U.S. News & World Report), academically speaking. This blog author is officially hoping that the academic bracket doesn’t hold true to form during that game later tonight.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.