The biggest victory

4/12/2019, 6 a.m.
Congratulations to the new national basketball champions, the University of Virginia Cavaliers. After a series of heart-pounding, nail-biting games — ...

Congratulations to the new national basketball champions, the University of Virginia Cavaliers. After a series of heart-pounding, nail-biting games — including a tense, overtime victory in Monday night’s final — the Wahoos have brought home the NCAA men’s basketball trophy, flooding all Virginians with pride.

This is the first tournament crown for the Cavaliers since the NCAA Tournament’s start in 1939.

 Coach Tony Bennett’s team, led by sophomore De’Andre Hunter and junior Kyle Guy, impressed us with their poise under the pressure of the bright lights and thunderous noise of 72,000-plus fans packed into U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Monday night. That’s even over and above the normal pressure associated with heading onto the court knowing a national championship is at stake.

They played a steady and even game, even as Texas Tech players bounced back to mount a neck-to-neck challenge and tied the score in regulation, sending the game into a thrilling overtime.

We also give props to the Wahoos’ associate head coach, Jason Williford. A John Marshall High School graduate from Richmond who played ball for and later coached the Justices, Coach Williford had his time in the spotlight as captain of the Cavaliers’ basketball team that reached the NCAA Elite Eight in 1995. He was able to use his own experience to help guide the 2019 team through this year’s pressure cooker.

The tournament was a welcome diversion from the year-round madness emanating from the White House and the recent aberrations from the Virginia statehouse. The games gave us a chance to yell, cheer, laugh and cry over nothing more serious than whether our brackets would be busted by the results. 

We hope that the young men playing for the 68 teams in the Division I tournament, including those playing at U.Va. and the four other Virginia schools that went to the tournament —Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech and Old Dominion and Liberty universities — will apply the lessons learned in the sport, including discipline and focus, to finish their studies and earn a degree.

Certainly, some of the talented players on the rosters may be headed to a career in the pros. But we hope the majority will finish college and go on to successful careers in various fields.

Even the NCAA states that the ultimate goal of the college experience is graduation. And in its latest study of student-athlete graduation rates released in November, the NCAA found that, overall, only 88 percent of athletes in all sports who entered a school on athletics aid graduated from that institution within six years.

Schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference, including U.Va. and Virginia Tech, have a higher student-athlete graduation success rate than the national average. U.Va. and Virginia Tech both have an overall 92 percent graduation rate for student-athletes, according to the NCAA statistics. Broken down by sport, however, U.Va.’s men’s basketball team has a 78 percent graduation rate, while Virginia Tech’s is 70 percent. By comparison, women’s basketball teams at both institutions have a 100 percent graduation rate.

We urge readers to take a look at the NCAA’s latest report at www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/graduation-rates. The figures are almost heart-breaking for schools in the CIAA, with Virginia Union University’s men’s basketball team having a reported 22 percent graduation rate and Virginia State University’s team having a 42 percent graduation rate.

The statistics raise serious questions about whether students are being exploited for a school’s athletic success or whether they are truly getting what they signed up for when they enrolled.

As the joyous celebration of the U.Va. Cavaliers deservedly continues, we hope that when the confetti finishes flying, readers will pause and look at the NCAA report and then ask themselves what we can do to help make the graduation numbers rise. The greatest victory would be for our student-athletes to be successful both on and off the court.