Born and raised in North Carolina, watching the NCAA championship games has been a tradition for me ever since I was in the fifth grade. In 1991 my best friend Allison convinced me to cheer for Duke because Christian Laettner was “really cute.” That was also the year Duke won the championship, beating Kansas 72-65, and I have been a fan ever since.
Like anyone who has ever paid attention to college basketball, I chose Duke to beat Lehigh this year. Who thought that a 15 seed team, without a single NCAA tournament game win, would beat Duke in the first round? I would like to meet the person who put that on his bracket. Don’t get me wrong --- I expected upsets and prepared for it. I predicted that Creighton would beat Alabama and that VCU would beat Wichita St., but that’s as far as my bragging rights can go this year.
I can’t be too upset though, because Cinderella stories and upsets are part of the reasons why I love college hoops. Simply put, Lehigh beat Duke because the players wanted it more. They fought for it. They knew it was their chance, their moment to prove themselves. Possessing only a four year window in which to win a tournament game, these college students pour out their hearts on the court.
What happens when the four year window has passed? In the midst of “bracketology” and office pools, it’s easy to forget that the players on the court are college students majoring in something other than basketball. They have hopes and dreams for their future, a future that for most of them will not lead to a career in the NBA. Because of this, college athletes have endured sharp criticism for failing to declare a major or for not enrolling in more difficult programs of study ---crucial decisions that if not made, imply a lack of preparation for the future. Perhaps such judgment is unfair considering the demands of their grueling schedule. As I surveyed my bracket, analyzing each school’s chance to make it to the Final Four, I also found myself thinking about the schools as a whole and their quality of education. I found great diversity among the 64 schools --- large schools, small schools, public schools, private schools, private Christian schools, private Catholic schools, and one Ivy. I also noticed a few schools that I had never heard of before, such as Creighton and St. Bonaventure. Little did I know how much they all had in common.
Of all of the 64 teams invited to play in the second round, six of them (Creighton, Georgetown, Loyola, Marquette, St. Bonaventure, and Xavier) are private Catholic schools. They are also the only schools with a common core curriculum, an established set of liberal arts courses for all incoming freshman. Harvard is currently phasing out its common core requirement. Some of the schools, such as Baylor and Virginia Commonwealth University have a common curriculum in their honors college, but do not have common core requirements for all freshmen. Here’s a glimpse into what the basketball players at these private Catholic schools are studying.
Along with required hours in philosophy, theology, and ethics, these Bluejays are required to take a class in Modern Western World (history), World Literature I (pre 1600, classical civilizations/English) and World Literature II (post 1600).
In an attempt to aid students in their “quest for knowledge,” Hoyas are required to take two full semesters of general education requirements. Included in the requirements are courses in philosophy, humanities, history, and science. Specific classes include Introduction to Logic, Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Introduction to Opera, and Philosophy of Law.
Greyhounds must take a foreign language and a philosophy course along with other chosen courses such as Economics, Theology, and Ethics. As explained on the university’s website, the core curriculum is combined with “specialized study,” helping students “develop their interests” and “explore different fields.” It also helps students “critically examine a cross-section of ideas.”
Each Golden Eagle, regardless of major, is required to have 36 total credit hours from nine knowledge areas: rhetoric; mathematical reasoning; theology; human nature and ethics; science and nature; individual and social behavior; literature and performing arts; diverse cultures; and histories of cultures and societies. Courses included in these nine knowledge areas are Growth of Western Civilization I and II, and Introduction to American History.
Foundations of the Western World and a class on Catholic-Franciscan heritage are requirements for all Bonnies. As explained on the university’s website, “students would most benefit by a shared educational experience that would promote communitywide intellectual conversation.” St. Bonaventure instituted a common core in order to bring faculty from “diverse disciplines together,” and demonstrate a learning community “based on respect for diversity.” The core also allows the curriculum to be “guided by a common set of goals,” allowing for a better assessment of results.
The Musketeers are not new to the NCAA tournament, and they can boast of alumni who have made it to the NBA (David West and James Posey, to name a few). Upon graduation, students have read through a list of common Great Books, including Plato’s Republic. According to Xavier’s website, a core curriculum gives students the “ability to express themselves articulately, orally and in writing. . .to think and to solve problems, critically, analytically and creatively, within and across disciplines. . .to differentiate the methodologies and to understand the interrelationships of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.”
As they are asked to think critically about Western Civilization, ethics, and philosophy these basketball players break the “dumb jock” stereo-type. It is difficult to complain that these basketball players have an easier course load when a common core curriculum is in place. Most of these schools are out of the tournament already, leaving only Marquette and Xavier to advance. In a few weeks, all the students will return home, and then a few weeks after that, the seniors will graduate and face the reality of looking for a job. But with the ability to examine ideas, articulate their thoughts, and solve problems across different fields, these students are prepared to embark on any career of their choice, anticipating the day when they can tell their children about the time when they played in the 2012 NCAA tournament.