Top basketball teams could face March Madness ban
By Stephanie Simon
(Reuters) - As college basketball's March Madness rolls on, the NCAA is on the verge of banning a perennial contender from next year's championship tournament because of poor performance - not on the court, but in the classroom.
The University of Connecticut men's basketball team - last year's national champions - has announced that it cannot meet the new, higher standards for academic performance that the National Collegiate Athletic Association enacted last fall.
A dozen other teams - including Syracuse, this year's top seed, Ohio University and Florida State - are at risk of failing to meet the standard, according to a study released this month by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
The new rules have substantially strengthened long-standing NCAA requirements on academic performance. Schools must now ensure that at least half their players are passing courses and moving steadily toward graduation. Teams lose points for each player who drops out, flunks out or transfers after falling behind academically.
Perhaps most importantly, the new rules make suspension from the tournament automatic for schools that fail to meet the bar. The NCAA had previously punished lagging teams mainly with mild sanctions such as cutting the number of scholarships a school could offer. A handful of teams with especially dismal academic records were barred from post-season play in past years, but most had no chance of making the tournament anyway.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he fully expects the NCAA to abide by its new rules, even if that means some top teams sit out in 2013.
"If they don't improve, you simply won't see them in the tournament," Duncan said.
But banning true contenders could change the nature of March Madness, the 68-team college championship tournament that has evolved into one of the nation's premier sporting events and generates some $800 million in revenue annually for the NCAA. Continued...