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Poor graduation rates equal real March Madness

If a school can’t keep at least half of its athletes on pace to graduate, it should not compete for a NCAA championship, says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. by Perry Green
Special to the Tri-State Defender

If a school can’t keep at least half of its athletes on pace to graduate, it should not compete for a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship and be cut out of the multi-million dollar post-season pay-out, says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

In a crusade launched in the early stages of the NCAA basketball championship tournaments, Duncan zeroed in on the failure of 10 of the 68 schools in the Division I men’s tournament to be on track to graduate half of their players, noting that black players are particularly ill-served.

 “We are very excited at the University of Memphis with our Men’s Basketball graduation rates. Our goal has been to graduate every men’s basketball player who completes his athletic eligibility. Since the 2002-03 academic year, we have had all but 3 senior men’s basketball players graduate (23 of 26) and all three are currently playing professionally.”
– Joseph P. Luckey, Ed.D.
Director, Athletic Academic Services,  University of Memphis

“If you can’t manage to graduate half of your players, how serious is the institution and the coach and the program about their players’ academic success?,” Duncan told reporters. “Teams with academic progress rates below (that level) should be ineligible for post-season glory.”

His remarks came hours after writing on the Washington Post’s opinion page that schools “need to stop trotting out tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic records and indefensible disparities in the graduation rates of white and black players.”

Duncan also recommended the NCAA restructure its post-season tournament revenue-distribution formula, which currently pays the conference of each school $1.4 million for every game their team plays in the tournament.

“Right now the formula handsomely rewards teams for winning games in the tournament, but does little to reward teams for meeting minimal academic benchmarks,” said Duncan. “I simply cannot understand why we continue to reward teams for failing to meet the most basic of academic standards off the court.”

He was citing the findings of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. That group, formed in 1989 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to combat college sports scandals, called for tougher standards for schools and student-athletes a decade ago.

He also cited the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ annual study report that found that 10 of the 68 schools involved in this year’s NCAA Tournament carry academic progress rates (APR) of less than 925, which would create a graduation rate of less than 50 percent. The academic progress rate is an NCAA measure of the progress toward graduation of student-athletes.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study, noted that only 59 percent of black basketball players graduate, far less than the graduation percentage of whites at 91 percent.  The reports show percentages are even lower among schools such as Kansas State University, where 100 percent of white players graduate, yet only 14 percent of black players graduate.  The University of Akron also graduates every white player, but has a zero percent black player’s graduation rate.

According to the Knight Commission, in the last five years, teams that had graduation rates of less than 50 percent or an APR standard of less than 925 earned 44 percent of the total $409 million distributed.

NAACP President Ben Jealous agreed with Duncan, but also acknowledged the high graduation rates made by the other 58 schools in the NCAA Tournament.

“When you are coaching student-athletes, you have a responsibility to them both as an athlete and a student,” said Jealous, who highlighted programs such as those at Xavier University, which sends designated personnel to check on players frequently to make sure they attend class and study regularly. “It happens because coaches decide to make sure that the young men are prepared for victory in life and not just on the court.”

Duncan suggested that barring schools with poor graduation rates from the NCAA tournament would motivate more programs to follow Xavier’s lead.

“The dream of playing in the NCAA tournament is what brings so many student-athletes on to these college campuses,” he said. “If the right behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished, you would see all of these schools doing things in a very different way, very quickly.”

(Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers.)

“We are very excited at the University of Memphis with our Men’s Basketball graduation rates. Our goal has been to graduate every men’s basketball player who completes his athletic eligibility. Since the 2002-03 academic year, we have had all but 3 senior men’s basketball players graduate (23 of 26) and all three are currently playing professionally.”

 – Joseph P. Luckey, Ed.D.
Director, Athletic Academic Services,  University of Memphis

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