Graduation Rates, Racial Gap Increase

March 17, 2011

When college basketball fans fill out their 2011 NCAA Tournament brackets, they rely on a team’s on-court performance throughout the season to assist them in making their predictions. But what if fans placed greater importance on teams’ academic graduation rates rather than their basketball prowess?

Each year, Inside Higher Education creates a bracket to showcase what the results would be like if schools advanced in the NCAA Tournament based solely on their academic progress rates (APR) with any ties broken using the school’s graduation rate. Based on their findings, Princeton (996), Kansas (1,000, a perfect score), Texas (1,000), and Butler (1,000) would be in this year’s Final Four with Texas and Butler playing in the national championship game.

According to the Graduation Success Rates (GSR), 42 teams in this year’s 68-team field graduated 60% or better of their players and 32 teams graduated at least 70%. However, seven teams had graduation rates of less than 40%, with the lowest being Arizona (20%), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (25%), Connecticut (31%), and Temple (33%).

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida releases the annual study detailing the NCAA Tournament schools’ graduation rates. Their findings for this year’s teams shows that graduation rates are improving overall, with both white and African-American student-athletes graduating at a higher rate than last year. White student-athletes for this year’s NCAA Tournament teams have a 90% graduation rate, while African-Americans have a 58% graduation rate.

Although the graduation rates for both African-American and white college basketball players continues to rise, the disparity of the rates between African-American and white student-athletes increased by 4% since last year. The staggering gap of 32% has increased 10% since 2009.

“For years we have noted the deeply troubling disparity between the GSR of African-American and white men’s basketball student-athletes,” said Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of TIDES. “While the actual graduation rates of African-American basketball student-athletes continue to increase, the gap increased to 32 percentage points! An ESPN poll conducted for Martin Luther King Day this year indicated that the greatest concern of both whites and African-Americans in the general public was this disparity. Hopefully that concern will generate new resources to address this problem.”

While this gap may seem disturbing, compared to African-American men in the general student population, the graduation rate of NCAA Tournament-bound African-American student-athletes is much higher. Despite that widening gap, there are five schools in this year’s NCAA Tournament that have higher graduation rates for African-American players than white players, those schools being Boston University (100%/80%), Northern Colorado (100%/78%), Old Dominion (50%/33%), Pittsburgh (60%/50%), and North Carolina-Ashville (rates n/a).

TIDES also released graduation rates for teams in this year’s women’s NCAA Tournament. As has historically been the case, the 2011 report revealed that women’s basketball teams had a higher overall graduation rate than men’s basketball teams. A graduation rate of 70% or higher was achieved by 91% of women’s teams, compared to 49% of men’s teams who achieved that benchmark. What is the reason for this?

“I think for women athletes and basketball players the emphasis is on balancing academic and athletic performance,” Lapchick said. “Coaches and everybody involved advising the women have pushed positive academic success. That’s become a tradition in women’s sports. But there are some of the same people advising both men’s and women’s teams on these campuses. So there’s a sort of academic challenge there, too. For me the next step is to hold up the women as a model of what we can do.”

Dr. Richard Lapchick is a forerunner in the fight for racial equality in sports and “the racial conscience of sport.” He co-authored the books 100 Pioneers: African-Americans Who Broke Color Barriers in Sport, 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened the Doors for Future Generations, 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport, and 150 Heroes: People in Sport Who Make This a Better World. All four books are published by Fitness Information Technology and are available at


Quantitative Analysis of How to Win H-O-R-S-E … Seriously?

January 6, 2011

As the production editor of the International Journal of Sport Finance during all of its five years of existence, I have grown to appreciate the quantitative research and analysis that permeates the journal. Even though my brain functions primarily in a qualitative mode (what do you expect from an editor who works daily with words?), I have been enlightened and seen the importance of such analysis relating to sport topics such as stadium finance, uncertainty of outcome, ticket pricing, salaries, state appropriates, donations, and even gambling.

That’s why I was so excited when I saw a post on the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective blog titled “Optimal H-O-R-S-E Strategy.” I thought to myself, “Sweet! I can learn some secret tips that will help me dominate my opponents when we play H-O-R-S-E on my driveway basketball hoop.” After all, my son is nearly 5 years old and is growing stronger and taller daily, and my daughter, nearly 3, can already dribble a basketball. I desperately need some tips or else they’ll soon start defeating their old man in our games of H-O-R-S-E.

I read through the post, concentrating as best as I could in order to grasp the meaning of the equations and all of the letters such as p, n, and k. Math was always my strongest subject in school, but after changing my major from engineering to journalism, I think the portion of my brain that comprehended statistical analysis went into permanent hibernation.

Anyway, the statistical analysis in the blog post wasn’t really difficult to comprehend. But to be honest, the end of the article left me feeling a bit duped. Sure, it was interesting to learn when to take higher percentage field goal attempts and when to take more risky shots (like my favorite from behind the goal and over the backboard). But I felt a bit deflated when I read the following:

“The bad news is if you’re a weaker shot than your opponent it can be very difficult to win even when you use superior strategy. While it will help if you call your shots based on these calculations, at the end of the day the best way to improve your H-O-R-S-E odds is to become more familiar with a basketball and not just with a calculator.”

Upon reading that, I felt crushed. My dreams of being a dominant H-O-R-S-E player by implementing the findings of the article were just dashed. When the snow melts away, the temperatures rise, and winter gives way to spring, it appears my calculator and all my newly acquired knowledge about the statistical analysis of shot selection in the game of H-O-R-S-E won’t really compensate for my utter lack of shooting prowess.

US-Russia Hoops Matchup Stirs Bitter Feelings From 1972 Munich Gold Medal Game

September 9, 2010

It happened exactly 38 years ago to the day, but even two generations later, the mere mention of the gold medal basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union at the 1972 Munich Olympics still evokes highly emotional responses from both sides.

Those emotions spilled over once again this week as the US and Russia prepared to face off Thursday in Turkey in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Championships.

In what is widely regarded as the most controversial conclusion to a basketball game in international competition, the USSR “defeated” the US 51-50 to claim the gold medal. It was the Americans’ first defeat in Olympic basketball history, snapping a streak of 63 straight victories and seven consecutive gold medals.

The US trailed much of the game but took the lead on two free throws with 3 seconds remaining. At that point, confusion among the referees, timekeeper, and even FIBA secretary R. Williams Jones resulted in the USSR receiving three attempts to inbound the ball and score. It succeeded on the third attempt, with a perfect full-court pass, a nice catch, and some sloppy defense resulting in the winning layup. (For a more thorough description of the game’s final seconds, click here.)

In his book American Hoops: U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball from Berlin to Beijing, sport historian Carson Cunningham wrote of the 1972 game: “The ending was not merely poorly supervised; it was chaotic, confusing, and without precedent” (p. 229).

To this day, the US is still bitter about the game’s outcome, refusing to accept the silver medal both at the 1972 Munich Games and every subsequent time they have been asked to accept the second-place prize.

This year’s coach of the Russian World Championship team, David Blatt, said earlier this week he believes the USSR was the rightful winner of the 1972 gold medal game, and admitted that he cried joyously after the Soviet victory.

Those words didn’t sit well with US coach Mike Krzyzewski, who fired back at Blatt’s recollection.

“You know, he coaches the Russian team, so he probably has that viewpoint, and his eyes are clearer now because there are no tears in them. So, it’s great. Whatever he thinks, he thinks. … It is what it is. It’ll be a negative from the way the US looks at it forever, and should be. And it’ll be in some ways a positive for those who believe in fairy tales.”

The Cold War has long since concluded, but the cold feelings between the two countries’ basketball representatives about the 1972 Munich Games are obviously still just as strong as they were 38 years ago.

For video of the final 3 seconds and the ensuing aftermath, click on the video below, courtesy of ESPN Classic via YouTube.

Remembering John Wooden

June 7, 2010

There’s really not much that can be said about John Wooden that hasn’t already been covered since his death June 4. What can be shared is my limited interaction with what might arguably be the greatest coach of all-time.

Like Wooden, I grew up in a small, rural town in Indiana. I actually resided less than 20 miles away from Wooden’s hometown of Martinsville, where he led his high school to three basketball state championship appearances and one title. In those tiny Indiana towns, virtually everyone has a basketball hoop in their driveway or on the side of their barn, and the legendary high school and college players from the state are treated with reverence.

We also shared the same alma mater, as he and I both graduated from Purdue University. Wooden  was a tenacious guard on the basketball court that became the nation’s first three-time All-American. During my time as a journalism student at Purdue, I had an opportunity to briefly meet and speak with John Wooden.

At the time he was in his early 80s and had returned to Purdue for a basketball family reunion. He had committed to signing autographs for two hours at a local bookstore, and, being an admirer of Wooden, I was one of the first in line. Much like many others who first encountered Wooden, I was a bit intimidated when I approached him, but he had a way of making anyone feel at ease with his folksy, genuine charm. After we exchanged a few words I scurried back to my dorm room with my newly prized possession—a poster of Wooden during his playing days at Purdue, signed and personalized to me.

Since I arrived very early to get in line, I noticed that Wooden actually arrived earlier than his scheduled time for the signing. I learned later that despite his two-hour commitment, he stayed nearly an hour longer to sign autographs until the very last person in line passed by his table. It was just a small example of how even though Wooden was the legend, he always humbled himself and treated anyone he interacted with as though they were the hero.

Six years ago, shortly after I was hired as an editor at Fitness Information Technology, I was elated to learn that one of my first assignments would be to serve as the developmental editor for a book about John Wooden’s teaching philosophies—You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices, authored by one of Wooden’s former “pupils,” Swen Nater, and one of his fellow educators at UCLA, Ronald Gallimore.

Nater was the backup to All-American center Bill Walton, which meant he rarely received playing time. But as Nater’s accounts in the book describe, the lessons and motivation he received from Wooden allowed him to become a dominant rebounder during his NBA career and it played a large role in his ensuing success as an author, poet, teacher, coach, and business man.

Gallimore is a professor at UCLA, where in the 1970s he and a colleague attended Wooden’s practices during the course of one season in order to document the specific teaching methods Wooden used. The revelations from that research formed the foundation of the contents of You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned, with first-hand stories from Nater giving the book an even more intimate examination of Wooden’s teaching philosophies.

As someone who had admired Wooden ever since I could remember, it was a pleasure to work with one of his players and a fellow UCLA educator on the book. I learned a great deal more about Wooden than I had previously known, despite having read many of the books that Wooden had penned. The anecdotes Nater provided in the book were fascinating and gave me a deeper understanding of Wooden’s coaching and teaching abilities.

To my surprise, a few weeks after the book was published I received a copy in the mail that was signed to me by Gallimore, Nater, and Wooden. In Wooden’s inscription, he noted that he appreciated my work on the book and that anyone who his “boy” Swen thought highly of, he thought highly of, too.

One of the many things I learned while editing and reading the book was that Wooden did not like the “Wizard of Westwood” nickname given to him. “I’m no wizard, I’m a teacher,” Wooden would say. Being a teacher is how Wooden always wanted to be remembered.

So as I remember the life of John Wooden, I’ll remember him not primarily as an All-American basketball player or a legendary basketball coach. I’ll remember him as a legendary teacher.

Click here for a previous post from this blog specifically about how John Wooden’s teaching principles were formed and then adopted for basketball.

Author Talks about Benefits of Team Sports

April 12, 2010

For someone who never played organized sports in his life, Mo Rocca wanted to know what he was missing out on. For those answers, the CBS Sunday Morning correspondent turned to Dr. Amy Baltzell.

Baltzell, author of the upcoming book Living in the Sweet Spot: Preparing for Performance in Sport and Life, is a professor at Boston University who specializes in positive psychology.  As an athlete, she was a member of the U.S. Olympic rowing team, so she speaks from experience.

In the segment, Rocca’s goal is to be able to play a game of pick-up basketball. First, he seeks input from Baltzell about the benefits of participating in a team sport. Then he solicits instruction on how to play the game of basketball from the Iona men’s basketball team. The segment, which is rather humorous in a self-deprecating sort of way, ends with Rocca’s first attempt at playing pick-up hoops on the playgrounds of New York’s Chinatown.

Below is video of the segment.

Are Nike Shoes Leading to Injuries?

April 6, 2010

Is a new line of Nike basketball shoes to blame for what seems to be an abundance of injuries? Perhaps there is just more media attention given to the injuries, but it seems that this season, more than others, there have been more foot and knee injuries to key players in college basketball.

Two Final Four teams were limited due to foot injuries, and both teams failed to advance to the national championship game. Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, suffered an Achilles’ tendon injury during the NCAA Tournament that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Spartan guard Chris Allen played sparingly after suffering a sprained arch in his right foot earlier in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans, playing without Lucas, were defeated by two points by Butler in the national semifinals.

West Virginia had to finish its tournament run without its point guard after Truck Bryant broke a bone in his foot during practice. Then in the second half of their loss to Duke, the Mountaineers saw All-American Da’Sean Butler go down with an ACL tear and MCL sprain to his left knee after he planted while dribbling toward the baseline.

Duke was also the beneficiary of a less-than-healthy squad in the Sweet 16, when it beat Purdue minus its top player, Robbie Hummel. The Boilermakers were widely regarded as a Final Four contender before Hummel tore the ACL in his right knee in the last month of the season after planting on a drive similar to the way Butler was injured. The Boilermakers also played the first half of the season without starting point guard Lewis Jackson, who had surgery after sustaining cartilage damage in his foot, and freshman Sandi Marcius missed the entire season because of a broken bone in his foot.

The list of key players sustaining injuries to their feet or knees could go on and on. But the one thing the above-mentioned players have in common is that they were all at Nike-sponsored basketball programs and had the option of wearing a new lightweight line of Nike basketball shoes—the Nike Hyperize or Hyperdunk.

And the connection between the shoes and injuries hasn’t just been Internet message board speculation by fans frustrated to see top players from their favorite teams sidelined. Detroit Pistons strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander reportedly tried to ban the Pistons from wearing the Nike Hyperize shoe earlier this season after he saw an unusual number of ankle injuries to his players. Kander has been with the Pistons for 18 years.

“I’m not going to name the brand of shoe it was, but it has been banned from our locker room and the guys aren’t allowed to wear it,” Kander was quoted as saying. “These shoes had taken most of the support out of the sides and it was a lighter shoe. Most basketball shoes weigh between 1.4 and 1.7 pounds. These shoes were weighing 0.8 pounds, which was way too light as far as side support. Since we’ve banned the shoe, knock on wood, we haven’t had any ankle sprains.”

Randy Meador, West Virginia University’s coordinator of athletic training services, said Mountaineer players have four different options of Nike shoes they can wear. He said he has not seen an increase of foot injuries this season, citing Bryant as the only player to sustain a foot injury. “We really did not notice a problem with shoes this year,” Meador said.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and his players take a similar stance, although Allen still switched to an older, heavier Nike shoe after his injury in order to provide more support.

After Allen and then Lucas went down with injuries, Michigan State director of sports medicine Jeff Kovan told the Detroit Free Press he would look into any possible correlation between the injuries and the Nike Hyperdunk shoes that the Spartans wear.

“Is there a problem with that shoe?” Kovan asked. “Well, obviously Arnie Kander has had a lot of problems, and I respect [his] decision. For us, we haven’t really seen a lot of problems. We’ve had sprains we’ve had every year. Therefore, yeah, we’re going to look at that, because if we don’t look at it, we’re not doing a service to the kids to make sure we’re protecting them.”

Higher Program Spending Equals Final Four?

March 31, 2010

With the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four approaching this weekend, I thought I would re-examine an earlier post on the IJSF blog by Brad Humphreys. He detailed the bracket picks of University of Colorado political scientist Scott Adler, who filled out winners according to which men’s basketball programs had the highest amount of spending, using statistics from The Equity in Athletics Data Analysis website.

Interestingly enough, Adler’s bracket correctly picked two of the four Final Four teams, which is two more than the U.S. President and most other people got correct when filling out their brackets. Based on the highest amount of spending, Adler’s bracket had Duke, Marquette, Michigan State, and Xavier in the Final Four. The teams actually competing this weekend in Indianapolis are Duke, Michigan State, Butler, and West Virginia.

In Adler’s bracket, West Virginia advanced to the Sweet 16 and Butler failed to get past a first-round matchup with UTEP. Of the other two Final Four picks based on Adler’s method, Xavier was narrowly eliminated in the Sweet 16 and Marquette was upset in the opening round.

So who will play in the national championship game? According to Adler’s method, Duke and Michigan State will meet on the hardwood, with the Blue Devils claiming their fourth national title.

You can click on the image below to see Adler’s complete bracket.