In the shadow of the ongoing NCAA tournament, the Obama Administration shared a recently released report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports which showed the vast disparity between Black and White athlete graduation rates among the 64 teams in this year’s tournament.
Yesterday, in a conference call with reporters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that, based on what he observes as a pervasive problem among some sports programs of undervaluing education, he would endorse a recommendation by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to require teams to be on track to graduate at least half of their players to be eligible for postseason play.
The dividing line between those who are successful after basketball careers fade, and those who are not, depends on their receipt of a college degree, said Duncan. A school’s lack of effort to graduate at least half of its athletes reflects its seriousness about players’ academic success, Duncan added. “It begs the question, ‘are you actually preparing your players for success [on the] court or in life?’”
Duncan proposed using the NCAA-approved Academic Progress Rates (APR) model to monitor and track a program’s progress. A score under 920 means a school has a graduation rate under 50 percent, and would thus be ineligible to play, if Duncan’s recommendations were adopted by the NCAA.
He also suggested that the NCAA restructures its redistribution formula. “Right now, the formula rewards handsomely teams for winning games, but does minimal for rewarding those who meet academic benchmarks.” Of the $409 million earned by NCAA Tournament teams in the past five years, nearly $179 million (44%) was earned by teams not on track to graduate at least 50% of their players, according to the commission, which supports academic reform in college sports.
“That doesn’t make sense to me. There are so many programs that are doing it right,” Duncan said. “So I simply cannot understand why we continue to reward teams for failing to meet the most basic of academic standards off the court.”
In response to those who say the parents, and not the schools or coaches, should be responsible for a student’s value of academics, Richard Lapchick, Director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, University of Central Florida replied that the constant factor among all programs is that they have children who come from challenging backgrounds. But, the difference is that schools like Illinois, which has a 100% graduation rate, makes academics a priority and others simply don’t.
“What I just continue to be stunned by is why we let a handful of bad apples taint the entire process,” said Duncan, who played basketball at Harvard. “This isn’t rocket science.” “He challenged the NCAA to accept his suggestion and take a hard line on the issue.
Duncan said he would not accept excuses from sport writers and other critics that he and the Administration simply don’t understand the dynamics of college sports. He pointed out that last year’s finalists, Duke and Butler, both had outstanding academic records.
Lapchick added, “Eight teams this year graduate 100% of their Black and White athletes,” including very competitive academic programs like Illinois, Villanova, and Utah State. “If these teams do well, why [can’t] programs like Kansas State, which graduates 85% of White and 14% of Black athletes.”