March Madness is upon us, and that, naturally, turned this not-so-young-man’s fancy to thoughts of … athletes’ graduation rates!
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former college and pro (in Australia) hoopster who has been all over this issue, proposed the other day that schools who graduate less than 40 percent of their basketball players be barred from the NCAA tournament. If such a rule were in place this year, number-one seed Kentucky would be booted (31 percent rate), along with a lot of other big-time programs.
What are the other badly performing schools in this year’s field? Here are the bottom feeders, starting with the worst (graduation percentage in parenthesis):
65: Maryland (8%*); 64: California (20%); 63 (tie): Washington and Arkansas Pine Bluff (29%); 61: Tennessee (30%); 60: Kentucky (31%); 59 (tie) New Mexico State Missouri, and Baylor (36%); 56: Clemson (37%); 55 (tie): Georgia Tech and Louisville (38%); 53: Houston (42%); 52 (tie): New Mexico and Temple (43%); 50 (tie) Minnesota and West Virginia (44%).
And the top seeds would be six teams, all with 100% graduation rates: Wofford, Wake Forest, Utah State, Brigham Young, Marquette, and Notre Dame. (It’s interesting that the hallowed half-dozen are big schools and small, religious and secular, public and private, in major conferences and obscure ones. Kind of makes the other colleges’ excuses ring hollow.) They are followed by:
7 (tie): Duke, Lehigh, Vermont, and Villanova (92%); 11: Xavier (89%–and check out the New York Times article about the 77-year-old nun who keeps the Xavier hoopsters in academic line); 12: Siena (86%); 13 (tie): Richmond and Vermont (85%); 15 (tie): UC Santa Barbara, Georgetown, Oakland, and Oklahoma State (82%).
The graduation rates are provided by the NCAA, but I’ve used the annual number-crunching done by Richard Lapchick of the University of Central Florida. Lapchick (son of the legendary coach Joe Lapchick) pays special attention to disparity in graduation rates of white and black athletes, and this continues to be a disgrace. To take one startling figure, 79% of the teams in this year’s field graduated 70% or more of white players, while only 31% graduated 70% or more of black players, a gap of 48 percentage points. And a number of poor-performing schools would have been even worse were it not for one or a couple of white players who didn’t get much playing time but managed to graduate.
Bottom line: as I’ve said before, you go, Arne. One way or another, some teeth have to be put into academic regulations at these poor-performing schools. If all else fails, I would suggest siccing Sister Rose Ann Fleming on their collective butts.
*STATISTICALLY NERDY NOTE: In the Washington Post article I’ve linked to, Maryland coach Gary Williams complains about the rating. It studies athletes who entered school in the years 1999-2002, and Williams says, one, that’s ancient history, and, two, the school is punished because players like Steve Blake and Juan Dixon who left school early for the NBA are counted as non-graduates. The problem with the first objection is that if (for fairness) you want to give student-athletes six years to graduate, and you want to take a three-year cohort to make sure one bad (or good) year doesn’t skew the results, the 1999-2002 entering class is the most recent cohort that could be studied. As for number two, sure, a couple of NBA players will hurt your graduation percentage. But Maryland did so badly, I’d bet that even if you left these guys out of the equation, it would still come out worst.