At the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament, CBS Sports signs off with the song “One Shining Moment.” As it plays, memories of the past three weeks - from buzzer beaters, to slam dunks, to unnecessarily drawn out handshakes – fill the TV screen. With all its pageantry and drama, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is one of the biggest sporting events of the year.
President Obama, a big sports fan, has not only made it a habit to fill out a bracket (he does a bracket for both the men’s and women’s tournaments), but has taken it one step further by appearing on ESPN to announce his selections.
Filling out a men’s bracket (I honestly don’t know a single person – Obama may be the one – who fills out a women’s bracket) is a tradition that so many of us participate in - from office pools, to competition amongst friends, to privately convincing ourselves that we’re more knowledgeable than everyone else. Even people who know nothing about basketball, who wonder why their Butler thinks he can take the next three weeks off to play basketball, fill one out.
It’s also a great moment for the programs and schools who qualify for the tournament, especially the ones who make those memorable runs. If you watched the Big East Tournament this past week and saw all the former players come back to root on their schools, you know how special the bond is between player and college, even when decades have passed since they made March their month.
Back to Obama. When it comes to education, he’s been great. As has Arne Duncan, a former Harvard basketball player who is now the Secretary of Education. Obama’s Race to the Top continued the efforts of George W. Bush in no longer accepting the status quo and galvanizing the school reform movement with real policy changes, whether we like all parts of that change or not. Duncan has talked tough when it comes to the NCAA (what else would we expect from a former Harvard student-athlete), demanding that low graduation rates and poor academic achievement not be tolerated.
Now really back to Obama. How about he takes a stand this March and instead of catering to ESPN, how about Obama tells the network that he won’t be appearing this time around. That by not glorifying academic failure, he’s making a statement to the schools who need to clean up their act. For reference, take a look at the academic performance of some of the teams that qualify for the tournament, including those who become Cinderella stories.
Obama could still fill out his bracket(s) in the White House. And like the rest of us, he could still watch as the most exciting three weeks in sports unfolds.
Just stay away from ESPN, Mr. President. What a message that would send.