A greater emphasis on academics provides other benefits. The current importance placed on winning now regardless of long-term costs rewards teams that lower academic standards. The results are not pretty. Memphis had a Final Four appearance erased by the NCAA after it discovered that the Tigers had been allowing an academically ineligible player to compete. Elite institutions such as Harvard have been accused of lowering standards in aggressive pursuit of better players. And then there is Binghamton University, which saw its first-ever tournament bid go from feel-good story to the loss of six players, the head coach, and the athletic director after it was revealed that the school admitted academically unqualified students, coaches wrote term papers, and athletes got credit for hard-hitting courses such as Theories of Softball. That's to say nothing of Binghamton athletes' multiple arrests in crimes ranging from possession of crack cocaine to using a stolen debit card.
Increased academic importance alters this win-at-all-costs mind-set. One quick trip to the tournament would be outweighed by the prospect of a multiyear postseason ban. Coaches, too, would not outrun their record of past academic failings. No longer would John Calipari flee from academic problems at one school in time to head a likely national championship contender the following spring. Recruiting violations follow coaches from job to job. Why shouldn't academic infractions?
The NCAA is at a critical juncture. It can opt out of the final portion of its contract with CBS and ignite a very lucrative bidding war among the networks and ESPN. It may also try to make more money by expanding the tournament to 96 teams. But the organization has some important decisions to make about academics. Either start taking into account classroom success—and stop rewarding failure factories masquerading as basketball teams—or stop pretending that the NCAA wants its athletes to also be students.
Read why the NCAA should be honest about the student athlete set-up, by Marc Isenberg, author of Money Players.