Graduation rates are March’s true madness

The Big Dance should be renamed the Big Dunce.

As many of us watched the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament these past few weeks, most of us did not hear about a recent report on the graduation rates of the tournament’s players. It is a scandal, to say the least. Not only were the overall graduation rates for most schools poor for all students, but the rates for African-American players were even more disturbing.

Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, compiled the report based on graduation rates from 1993-1998. He pulled no punches in his comments when considering the racial disparity in the numbers. “When an African-American comes to a campus with the expectation of getting a degree and making the pros, he often leaves with neither,” Lapchick wrote for the Orlando Sentinel.

Some of the nation’s most successful programs on the court have been complete failures in the classroom.

According to Lapchick’s report, of the 65 Division I teams that qualified for the Big Dance this year, 42 didn’t even graduate 50 percent of their players in the reporting period. Five of the participating schools graduated less than 10 percent of its African-American players. What’s more, half of the schools have a disparity in graduation rates between white and black players of 20 percent or more. At two schools, the disparity rate was 50 percent. The overall graduation rate in 1997 for black athletes in NCAA schools was only 42 percent.

Although black players make up a significant percent of many Division I men’s basketball programs (between 60 percent and 70 percent in any given year), it should still be troubling to know, as the report showed, that most black student-athletes in these programs did not graduate.

With the growing commercialization of Division I basketball programs, demand has increased for coaches who can “succeed” by winning games and by earning money for their programs. Partly as a result, graduation rates have taken a back seat.

While it is not the schools’ legal responsibility to see to it that these student-athletes apply themselves and graduate from college, it is their moral responsibility.

The NCAA and many schools are making millions off the backs of the talented players they lure to their universities. The NCAA makes $6 billion from its current 11-year contract with CBS. The network, in return, gets the rights to broadcast the post-season tournament through 2014. Successful teams eventually get some trickle down from the NCAA but much of a school’s revenue comes from regular-season games, individual television or radio deals, ticket sales, luxury boxes and corporate sponsorships. During the 2002 – 2003 season, seven of the top programs earned more than $12 million in revenue, according to CNN Money.

Is it too much to ask that some of that revenue be invested in the young student-athletes?

Brian  Gilmore  is  a  lawyer and  poet.   He  can  be  reached  at  pmproj@progressive.org.