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Outside editorial: NCAA athletes must win in classroom, too

Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011

The following editorial first appeared in the Charlotte Observer:

The 68-team NCAA men’s basketball tourney just got under way. But teams have already unofficially competed in another tourney. Those results are in, and they are sobering. A good number of the athletes attending tournament schools often dazzle on the court but founder in the classroom. Far too many never graduate.

That’s what The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida found in a study released Monday. The annual report is called “Keeping Score When it Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” The study examines the graduation success rates and academic progress rates for teams as reported by the NCAA.

The graduation rate is based on the four-year class average of entering freshmen from 2000-2001 to 2003-2004, and the academic progress rate is based on four-year data from 2005-2006 to 2008-2009. So these numbers are not specific to this year’s players. But a decade of these studies show continuing problems.

This year’s results do as well, though improvements are evident, too.

The schools in the men’s tourney graduated 66 percent of their basketball student athletes, up 2 percentage points from last year’s study. But this big problem remains. The graduation rate for white players is much higher than the rate for black players and the gap is widening.

White players show a 91 percent graduation rate, up 7 percentage points from the 2010 study. Black players’ 59 percent graduation rate was up just 3 percentage points. This is the third straight year the gap has increased.

In a sport dominated by black players, that should be troubling, especially to those who love the sport. “It is a staggering gap,” said Richard Lapchik, the institute director and primary author of the study. Fifty-four percent of the teams studied had a gap of at least 30 percentage points or more between the graduation rates of white and black athletes.

The good news is that black male basketball players have higher graduation rates than black male students overall. The rate for black male students as a whole is just 38 percent. That’s abominable. But that doesn’t make the basketball players’ graduation any more palatable. Schools have to do more to help these students succeed academically. Some schools already have the recipes for success. Twelve of these NCAA schools have high grad rates for their male basketball students, regardless of race. Among those with 90 percent or better rates are Notre Dame, Villanova, Wofford, Illinois, BYU, Utah State and Vanderbilt. North Carolina and Duke fared well also, with overall grad rates of 88 percent and 83 percent respectively.

Some basketball powerhouses were disappointing. UConn had a basketball grad rate for this period of a mere 31 percent (for blacks it was 25 percent; for whites, 50 percent). Kentucky’s rate was 44 percent (just 31 percent for blacks and 100 percent for whites). Arizona came in with a 20 percent rate (14 percent for blacks, and 100 percent for whites).

Those are appalling stats. We hope schools have improved dramatically over the last couple of years. But past years’ studies illustrate that progress has been slow, and still falls short. So cheer for your team during this year’s NCAA tournament. The athletes have worked hard to get to this elite stage. But after the tourney is over and a champion is crowned, remember there’s another competition these athletes need to win. Many schools need to work much harder to help athletes win that one.



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