With the majority of sports fans now fully immersed in March Madness, the point totals aren’t the only interesting scores revealed regarding the 65 teams that earned an invite into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and its director, Dr. Richard Lapchick, have released their annual report on the graduation rate of each team playing in the Big Dance. And while this year’s results are no more troublesome than most years, it’s a comment from the U.S. Secretary of Education that has created a bit of controversy.
Arne Duncan stated that he believed that basketball programs that didn’t have at least a 40% graduation success rate should not be allowed to compete in the annual championship tournament.
“Frankly, that’s a low bar, and not many teams would be ineligible,” said Duncan, who played college basketball at Harvard and professionally overseas. “Over time, we should set a higher bar. But it’s a minimum, a bright line, which every program should meet to vie for postseason honors.”
If that benchmark was applied this year, there would be 12 teams that would have been denied an opportunity to be featured in CBS Sports’s “One Shining Moment” montage. One of those programs is the University of Tennessee, and Volunteer coach Bruce Pearl didn’t hold back when asked to provide his thoughts on the Secretary’s remarks.
“I don’t mind reminding the Secretary that one of the greatest disservices that take place in our country is the difference in secondary education,” said Pearl, whose program had a 30% graduation rate. “If you want to fix it, fix it at the high school level, at the middle school level, at the elementary school level.”
While Pearl’s comments regarding the failures of secondary education do have some merit, universities and the coaches that collect million-dollar paychecks should shoulder some of the culpability. Consider the fact that the University of Maryland has an 8% graduation rate. The others below 40% are Arkansas Pine-Bluff (29%), Baylor (36), California (20), Clemson (37), Georgia Tech (38), Kentucky (31), Louisville (38), Missouri (36), New Mexico State (36), Tennessee (30), and Washington (29).
On the flip side, it should be noted that 21 teams had a graduation rate of 80% or better, with perfect percentages possessed by BYU, Marquette, Notre Dame, Utah State, Wake Forest, and Wofford.
In order to calculate the graduation success rates, The Institute calculated the average of the four most recent classes (with six years given to each class to graduate). The years reviewed included freshman classes of 1999‐00, 2000‐01, 2001‐02, and 2002‐03.
What is even more troubling to Lapchick is the disparity of graduation success rates among African-American and white male basketball players. White male basketball student-athletes on NCAA tournament teams had an 84% graduation rate compared to 56% for African-American male basketball players on the same squads, a disparity of 28%.
According to the Institute’s release, Lapchick emphasized that, “African‐American male and female basketball players graduate at a higher rate than African‐American males and females who are not student‐athletes. The graduation rate for African‐American male students as a whole is only 38%, versus the overall rate of 62% for male white students, which is a huge 24 percentage point gap. Our predominantly white campuses too often are not welcoming places for students of color, whether or not they are athletes.”
Lapchick is one of the foremost champions of racial issues in sport. He recently co-authored 100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport, and subsequently published 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened Doors for Future Generations. A forthcoming title is 100 Campeones, which honors prominent Latin Americans who influenced sport. All three books are published by Fitness Information Technology and are available at www.fitinfotech.com.