March Madness in the White House

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You don't need a big screen TV or knowledge of the best three-point shooter to enjoy another type of bracketed tournament during this college basketball season. What you need for the Tournament of the Presidents is a love of history and a competitive edge about your top presidential pick.

The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, www.allpresidents.org, is setting up an online competition among 24 of the 42 men who have served in the White House. Beginning on Presidents Day, February 20, the presidents will go head-to-head in a five-round college basketball style tournament to determine the answer to the following question:

Which U.S. president has had the most impact on the world?

"We want to start a national discussion about the presidents," said Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center. "This question is central to understanding our times and our nation's role in the world. Some people will emphasize wartime presidents, like FDR; others will emphasize peace-time initiatives, like Truman and his Marshall Plan; still others may emphasize moral stature and select Washington or Lincoln."

The Hauenstein Center is inviting anyone who is interested to go to www.allpresidents.org, go through the rounds, pick their presidents and participate in online discussions. Whitney will also be contacting more than 200 noted historians and authors to get their answers to the survey question. These scholars include Richard Norton Smith, H.W. Brands, Kiron Skinner and Robert Caro.

The 24 presidents to be included in the Hauenstein Center tournament were picked based on three criteria: Every wartime president (19), everyone with a named foreign policy doctrine (11), and one more (Andrew Jackson), who got a spot after ranking high in three of the largest presidential polls already conducted.

Brian Flanagan, assistant director of the Hauenstein Center, came up with the idea of running this presidential survey like a basketball tournament.

"We wanted to do something different to attract people to this survey and give people a fun and interesting way to participate and interact on the Web," said Flanagan. "We know that long after we announce the winner, the discussion threads and information, from the scholars as well as the general participants, will provide learning opportunities about the presidency."

The tournament is set up like this:

  • Round 1: February 20 - 26
  • Round 2: February 27 - March 5
  • Round 3: March 13 - 19
  • Round 4: March 13 - 19
  • Final round: March 20 - 26

Visit www.allpresidents.org for more information or to participate.

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