STANFORD -- Watching the NCAA tournament is a whole lot more fun when you can root for a cause as well as a team. This spring, that task has never been easier.

What is the cause? I suppose you could define it as a tiny life raft of integrity in a sport swamped by hypocrisy.

Or more specifically: The cause is the concept of juniors and seniors -- you know, real upperclassmen -- being the focus of your team's starting lineup rather than freshmen who are just passing through in a "one-and-done" scenario.

Stanford's players did not nominate themselves as flag bearers for this cause. But it is a big part of their identity right now -- as well as the identity of opponent Dayton, along with several other teams left in the Sweet 16.

The Flyers and Cardinal, bless them, still cling to the quaint notion that a triumphant college team can be created by developing players over the course of three or four years, molding them into experienced winners.

This puts those teams at odds with other programs, such as Kentucky and Kansas, that strategically recruit uber-talented high school players who more or less declare they intend to stay in college for a single season before turning pro. Thus, the one-and-done terminology. And thus, the celebration by old-school types last Sunday when Stanford's veteran lineup defeated a Kansas roster filled with one-and-done candidates such as Andrew Wiggins, hyped as a potential NBA No. 1 pick this summer.

Johnny Dawkins, the Stanford head coach, was asked this question Monday: What would happen if he ever presented a declared one-and-done recruit to the school's admission office for approval.

"I've never had to do that, to even find out," Dawkins said, with a quizzical grin. "Philosophically, I'm not a one-and-done guy."

Easy to say. But not always easy to live by.

Philosophically, Socrates was also not a one-and-done guy. The ancient Greek thinker always asked a series of questions when examining a topic before reaching a justifiable conclusion. However, Socrates never faced the temptation of taking a one-and-done shortcut with millions of dollars at stake for schools and coaches in March Madness.

That temptation leads otherwise fine academic institutions -- including Dawkins' alma mater, Duke -- to make unfortunate compromises for the pursuit of basketball glory.

Thus, even though Stanford is merely doing what Stanford is supposed to do by guiding players toward their diplomas, we should probably not take it for granted that Dwight Powell will soon be receiving a degree in science, technology and society.

Powell is Stanford's best player, a 6-foot-10 senior starter at power forward. He was highly touted enough that he could have turned pro after his freshman season. A year ago, Powell was definitely in position to leave Stanford early after earning All-Pac-12 first-team honors. His mother was suffering from cancer and would tragically die in September.

To help such players decide whether to leave school, the NBA issues an evaluation report that outlines their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their projected draft slots.

Such a report arrived at the Cardinal basketball offices 10 months ago. Dawkins and an assistant coach made it available to Powell, if he wished to see it. He didn't wish.

"He told us, 'I'm not even going to look at it,' " Dawkins said. "He said that he'd already made up his mind to come back for his senior year. One reason he came here was for a Stanford degree. He knew that was important to his mom."

Powell confirmed the story, saying that to this day, he has not seen the evaluation sheet. But wasn't he the least bit curious to peruse it?

"Of course I was curious," Powell said. "I'm still curious. But I don't like to have too much on my plate as mental distractions from what I need to focus on."

Which, lest we forget, is the knotty task of being a college student en route to a degree, as well as a college basketball player. Kudos to the teams left in the NCAA tournament who recognize this mission. No kudos to the teams that don't, especially Kentucky, which under coach John Calipari won the 2012 national title with a bunch of quick-exit freshmen and keeps trying to repeat that plug-and-play formula.

Don't blame Calipari. Blame his school's administrators. In 2005, the one-and-done wave swept into college ball with the adoption of a new NBA collective bargaining agreement. The CBA forbids any NBA team from drafting or signing any player who has been out of high school for less than one year or was less than 19 years old. Before then, any great high school player could turn pro right out of high school if he wished. After 2005, those players were basically forced to play a year of college ball somewhere. But no school was forced to take them.

How does that decision act out in the university president's office, anyway? Sir, we need to admit some basketball players who will only be here for a few months, have no intention of graduating and will take away valuable spots in the classroom from students who actually want to earn a degree. Sound good? Just sign off on it right . . . here.

Sooner or later, the one-and-done rule must go. It should be replaced by a rule similar to college baseball, giving young athletes the option of either (A) turning pro right out of high school or (B) choosing to accept a scholarship but committing to stay in school three or four years if they do.

Victories by teams such as Stanford show the benefits of (B). This weekend, the war for college basketball's soul continues.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

THURSDAY'S GAME
South Regional semifinals, at Memphis, Tenn.: Dayton (25-10) vs. Stanford (23-12), 4:15 p.m. CBS

INSIDE
Cardinal with manageable road to Final Four. PAGE 3

class acts
Through 35 games this season, 2,448 of Stanford's 2,544 points (96.2 percent) have been scored by juniors or seniors. The Cardinal's top eight scorers are all upperclassmen. Here's a look at those players:
Player Points
Sr. Chasson Randle 18.7
Sr. Dwight Powell 13.9
Jr. Anthony Brown 12.5
Sr. Josh Huestis 11.1
Player Points
Jr. Stefan Nastic 7.2
Sr. Aaron Bright 5.9
Sr. John Cage 3.3
Sr. Robbie Lemons 2.1


VERY EARLY EXITS
According to draftexpress.com, only one of the top five college freshmen expected to enter the NBA draft remain in NCAA tournament field. Here's a look at those five freshmen:
Player (predicted pick) School NCAA status
Andrew Wiggins (1) Kansas Eliminated
Joel Embiid (2) Kansas Eliminated
Jabari Parker (3) Duke Eliminated
Julius Randle (4) Kentucky In Sweet 16
Noah Vonleh (7) Indiana Didn't qualify