March Madness didn't include much basketball this year, but academically, the game is still on

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In a time that will be defined by "social distancing," never has it been more imperative to stay united. I often speak on the power of sport and its potential to impact our world in positive ways by bringing us together. With the void of sporting events for the foreseeable future, finding this unity may seem harder than ever.

We must draw on the intangibles that sports have created to bring us together. For those of us who are college sports enthusiasts, March has always been a special month. It means we get to watch our favorite team, or maybe even player, write their story into college basketball lore and add another chapter to what is March Madness.

This year, that didn't happen. On March 12, NCAA president Mark Emmert and the Division I board of governors canceled all the 2020 winter sports championships, including the men's and women's basketball tournaments based on the evolving public health threat posed by the coronavirus. As a result of this cancellation, TIDES (The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport) decided to release two reports analyzing academic and graduation performance of men's and women's basketball teams that would have made the tournament, based on projections by ESPN college basketball analysts Joe Lunardi and Charlie Creme.

Beyond the reports, along with TIDES, I wanted to help fill part of the void left by not having a bracket to fill out that would have sparked debates regarding their favorite team or championship winner. Coined as the "TIDES Projections," this bracket is based on the most recent graduation success rate (GSR) and academic progress rate (APR) data provided by the NCAA. This bracket puts an academic and diversity spin on what typically is an athletic-based selection process.

In this projection, we are not using the typical NET, RPI or Kenpom rating or the latest statistics to rank these projected teams. Instead, we use measures that align with one of the core pillars of the NCAA: academics. This new projection considers team APR, overall team GSR, team GSR gap between white and African American student-athletes and the team head coach demographics. In the reports, we continued to look at head coaches and their teams' graduation rates. We wanted to see if there was a correlation between student-athletes' graduation success and the race or gender of their coaches.

In 2020, 54 coaches (79.4 percent) in the men's NCAA tournament would have been white, while 14 (20.6 percent) would have been African American. The average GSR for men's teams with an African-American head coach was 84.5 compared to 82.3 for teams with a white head coach.

On the women's side, 64.1 percent of the teams within the tournament would have been coached by women (including nine African American women, 31 white women, and one Latina woman). Teams with women head coaches also had, on average, a higher GSR (93.9 percent) and APR (988.8) than teams with male head coaches (91.7 percent GSR and 985.2 APR).

In this alternate universe, if the basketball selection committee went along with our academic projections, the 1-seeds for this year's men's tournament would be Michigan, Belmont, Gonzaga, and Bradley, with Michigan being the overall No. 1 this year. Typical favorites such as Kentucky (7-seed), Kansas (3), and Duke (5) took a slide within this measure. Even some of this season's favorites such as Dayton (11) and San Diego State (13) are nowhere near the projected line based solely on academic performance.

On the women's side, Gonzaga, Rice, Samford and Stanford would be the new 1-seeds, with Gonzaga being the overall No. 1. Usual tournament favorites on the women's side, such as South Carolina (9-seed), Baylor (12), Oregon (15) and Connecticut (5), saw their rankings drop.

Unfortunately, these student-athletes who have worked for this moment did not get their opportunity to shine. Players like Cassius Winston, Sabrina Ionescu, Markus Howard and many others will forever have an asterisk by this season. But, with this academic bracket, we wanted to highlight the top schools that are preparing their student-athletes for life after basketball.

Jasmyn Mackell, Nicholas Mutebi and Andre Vasquez significantly contributed to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick.