The Madness of the Stats We Track, Spread & Recite in March

Some stats are more important than others...

Basketball on Gym Floor

Each year, when March Madness rolls around, some of the greatest athletes take the stage in a month-long duel to determine the country’s top college basketball teams and players. Without fail, every year is met with triumph and sorrow.  Teams from Division I conferences challenge each other, often pitting small schools against large and famous programs against unknown, in games neither team knew or expected at the start of the season.  New rivalries are formed in the crucible – or basketball court – of pressure and attention. Every year we see upsets and new heroes from once unsung (and virtually unknown) schools, as well as tests against household names and perennial powerhouse teams. The only thing certain is the uncertainty. Who will be upset? Who will advance to the Final Four? One thing which is never asked, however, is “who will die?” “Who will survive – literally?”                        

It is estimated an average of 11.3 million people watch college’s most famous month-long athletic tournament. There were 350 million social media impressions on Facebook and Twitter. Kantar Media finds 89 unique advertisers spent over $1.13 BILLION during March Madness in 2014, which is almost 3.5 times more than what was spent during the Super Bowl in the same year ($331.4 million). Co-workers and friends challenge each other to duels and bracket predictions, betting time, money, and reputation around who can make the most accurate predictions before the first ball is even tipped. Inevitably, each year, brackets are busted in the first round due to buzzer-beating shots and the “I told you so” melds closely with those who were ostensibly lucky.

Given the massive television audiences, coupled with the magnifying effect of daily water-cooler conversations, let alone texts, Facebook posts and barroom debates, what better platform to mention the importance of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and its impact on the players we celebrate?

According to a study performed in 2011 by Dr. Harmon, the leading cause of death in student athletes is cardiac, with 3.45 deaths in NCAA athletes per 100,000 athlete years. Division I athletes have a higher incidence of sudden cardiac death (SCD) among student-athletes in the NCAA than other Divisions, with 1 death in 30,301 athletes per year. (Read more SCA statistics here)

Dr. Harmon, et al. also calculated SCD rates based upon race. The authors found white student-athletes had an SCD rate of 1 in 58,653 and black student-athletes had a significantly higher risk of 1 in 17,696.  In 2010, the last year for which data were available, 58.9% of NCAA Division I college basketball athletes were black.

The study also calculated risk by sport with basketball being the highest-risk sport with a 1 in 11,394 overall yearly death rate. The athletic group with the highest risk of SCD were Division I, male basketball players of any race with a risk of 1 in 3,126 annually. In 2014, there were 5,485 NCAA Division I varsity basketball student-athletes in the United States. You do the math to determine how much time will transpire before the next preventable death occurs.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Infographic

So there you have it.

Each year, while NCAA Division I basketball stars bring us so much joy (and, depending on who you’re rooting for, heartache and tears), we’re viewing the best-of-the-best, but we’re also watching the highest risk population of SCA in sports play the game they love.

We track stats like scoring percentage, free throw percentage, points in the paint, and who advances in our brackets. Wouldn’t it be nice if the tens of millions of viewers who view, track, spread and recite these stats, citing them like ESPN sportscasters, knew a couple of other figures, like how many lives are unnecessarily lost each year and what can be done about it?

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