March Madness Story Ideas for Education Reporters

Webinar on University Sports


It’s that time of year again, but why should sports reporters have all the fun?

With more than 100 colleges and universities competing in the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, there are plenty of topics education reporters can explore about how athletics affect life on campus:

  • Are athletes held to the same academic standards as other students and how do their graduation rates compare?
  • Are athletic scholarships really a fair deal for student athletes?
  • How do colleges balance their spending between academics and athletics?
  • How do universities handle allegations of sexual assault when athletes are accused?

EWA explored these ideas along with other story possibilities and resources to help you report them quickly with insights from Amy Perko (executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics) and Brad Wolverton (senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Resources Suggested by Amy Perko

Resources Suggested by Brad Wolverton

Graduation Rates of Tourney Teams
About 90% of white men’s basketball players graduate within six years, according to the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate; 65% of black men’s basketball players finish in that time.

Researchers who Study Athletes’ Graduation Rates

The Business of March Madness
How the NCAA makes money (via Indy Star / Mark Alesia)

For increases in costs (i.e., coaching salaries, recruiting expenses, university subsidies, etc.), see USA Today’s Sports Spending Database.

NCAA’s audited financial statements — its IRS form 990s, available at

Are commercialism and higher education compatible?
NCAA says yes, arguing that its amateur model requires players to prioritize education over sports. (The NCAA requires teams to meet a minimum 50% graduation rate to qualify for March Madness.) Congress isn’t convinced. Federal lawmakers have scrutinized the NCAA, arguing, among other things, that it has failed to enforce its academic standards and done a poor job of preparing players for life after sports. The NCAA also faces scrutiny over its failure to provide due-process protections for players and its lack of health protections for athletes.

Two former UNC basketball players are suing in state court in NC, claiming that the university defrauded them of a legitimate education. Behind the case is Michael Hausfeld, the lead lawyer in the Ed O’Bannon case, involving the commercial use of players’ images.

Other Challenges the NCAA Faces

  • NLRB ruling re: Northwestern football players.
  • Kessler suit challenging limits on player compensation.
  • Appeal in O’Bannon case.
  • Concussion lawsuits.
  • Colleges trying to meet full cost of attendance for players. Will meeting those added costs lead to cutbacks in other sports? (See Florida State’s across-the-board 2% budget cut to fund the new costs.)

Tourney Itself
Business or Issues-Oriented Stories Around It

Travel quandaries

Short color pieces from The Chronicle