The Gonzaga Bulldogs were named the recipients of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Award on Wednesday, the only Final Four team from the 2016-17 basketball season to receive the honor.
The Gonzaga program tweeted out a 3.14 GPA, which is a few points higher than the 3.0 the NABC requires to receive the award.
So congratulations to the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball program, and also time to climb up on this high horse a little bit. Because a lot of people talk about the “Gonzaga way,” and if there is any clear indicator of that methodology, this is it.
It is hard to argue that the NCAA is anything but a garbage institution. It penalizes players for accepting petty cash, and penalizes coaches for things such as buying pizza after film practices. All the while, it touts the glory of the “student-athlete” while making absurd amounts of money off of the backs of these kids. We can engage in circular arguments forever about the value of a free college education and such, but at the end of the day, the institution of the NCAA is often hard to sympathize with.
That said, it is the system that we have always lived in, and it is the system Gonzaga has grown up in. Student athlete might not mean much to some players (hello Ben Simmons), but it does mean something to the Gonzaga Bulldogs squad. Garnering a 3.14 GPA as a team, while traveling for half of your school year and dealing with the Final Four madness for the first time is no easy feat—these kids deserve the most hearty congratulations possible.
It is easy to guffaw at the terminology of “student-athlete,” but at Gonzaga, that is really the deal. Bud Withers mentioned it in his excellent book Glory Hounds, but the Gonzaga coaching staff has always been most focused on not recruiting the best players out there, but the players that best fit into the culture—both of the athletic program, and of the school program.
It is also something important to keep in mind with the pursuit of high-level recruits. Not specifically saying that all five-star kids who plan on being one-and-dones have the same mindset as Ben Simmons or Derrick Rose, but if you don’t want to attend class, and plan on being at school for only one year, there isn’t any reason to. But, if that is your approach, you are also scuttling your opportunity to be an actual part of the school. You are just a Bulldog, not a Gonzaga Bulldog.
As a graduate from Gonzaga, one of the most lasting memories of the school for me is how tight-knit the community is. This extends to seeing Cory Violette sitting in your political science class. This includes Przemek Karnowski picking up your yoga mat when you drop it and half of your belongings in the quad. It may not matter much to a lot of programs, but academic excellence, and therefore a member of the university, reflects what it truly means to be a Gonzaga Bulldog: to be involved, and to be a member of the community.
So congratulations you nerds. This is a fantastic achievement, and one you should relish in.