The independent news organization of Duke University

March madness mayhem

For days, basketball fans around the country meticulously crafted their perfect brackets in preparation for this year’s March Madness. However, regardless of how much time was spent weighing odds, checking player statistics or revising outcomes, few could have predicted the number of lower seed teams that would topple high ranked NCAA giants. Within just the first two rounds, Michigan State fell to Syracuse, Arizona to Buffalo, Miami to Loyola and UNC to Texas A&M. All these losses shocked casual fans and seasoned commentators alike, but none as much as the historic 20-point battering that the No. 1 seed Virginia took from a relatively unknown underdog team. Once the University of Maryland-Baltimore County knocked out UVA, it dominated headlines everywhere. Sports reporters were asking who these kids were and how they pulled off this win that was, statistically-speaking, nearly impossible. Although, despite this upset only recently throwing UMBC into the spotlight, this university is far more than a basketball Cinderella story.

A number of headline worthy accomplishments are claimed by the school, including a reputation for churning out more Black Ph.D. and M.D. holders than any other college in the entire country. Administrators chalk this admirable accomplishment up to a robust internal student support systems and a firm commitment to research programs. They also boast specific scholarship programs dedicated to creating more inclusive and diverse student body populations in STEM fields. Academics is definitely the university's strong suite; even some of the basketball players sport 4.0 GPAs on top of their athletic obligations. The UMBC president, Freeman A. Hrabowski III—a man with an impressive 26 year term and history of civil rights protests—has spent his time rapidly expanding the university and funding sprawling new facilities for the humanities and scientific research alike. And, as if these things weren’t enough, UMBC also has claims to fame for dominating the college chess circuits and being the current defending champions for the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

Even though the underdog team is now out of the running for the 2018 NCAA finals, their presence in the media recently summons some worthwhile comparisons between the Maryland school and Duke. While the Blue Devils are slated to be a formidable presence in the rest of the tournament, our institution doesn’t hold the same weight in terms of affordability or economic mobility compared to other universities. Additionally, our earned reputation as a “one-and-done” school that more or less acts as a direct pipeline to the NBA and legacy as a cocky, self-assured presence on the basketball court aren’t necessarily shining achievements either.

Ultimately, one hopes that this sudden news coverage of UMBC will result in a further elevation and appreciation of the impressive work being done by the university outside of athletics. It’s an unfortunate reality that it often takes something like a sudden NCAA tournament victory to cast a school like this into some much deserved limelight and that national reputations are frequently built primarily on the backs of sports programs. Ideally, in the future, strides being made in graduating diverse legions of new innovators and thinkers will be enough to thrust universities into headlines, but, until then, here’s hoping that UMBC will continue to thrive and attract leaders of tomorrow with the added extra boost from the historic UVA game.


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