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Derrick Z. Jackson

Touchdown! for Graduation Gap Bowl

Charles Mann, All Right

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame, where graduates come with gridiron fame. The Fighting Irish are in the national collegiate championship football game Monday with a 100 percent Graduation Success Rate for their African-American players, tied for first with Rice University. Among the 70 teams in this season’s bowl games, Notre Dame also tied with Northwestern for a 97 percent overall graduation rate.

But cheer not just for Notre Dame. Fifty-six teams, a record 80 percent, scored either a “Touchdown” or a “First Down” in my 17th annual Graduation Gap Bowl. Touchdowns are scored by teams with graduation rates of at least 50 percent for black and white players, and with racial gaps of less than 15 percentage points. Notre Dame’s opponent, Alabama, earned First Down honors with very good graduation rates, but too big of a gap between black and white players to make my end zone of education.

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Alabama, to its credit, saw its black grad rate rise from 38 percent six seasons ago to 68 this season. That symbolizes the general upward shift in graduation rates even from schools which specialized in making a mockery of the “student-athlete” model. Five schools which I would have disqualified from bowl games two seasons ago for having black or white player graduation rates under 50 percent, have now earned the ranks of “First Down” — Fresno State, North Carolina State, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M.

The upward shift, surely a result of public pressure for universities to provide an education in exchange for the billions of dollars the athletes generate, was felt all the way to the top. A record 21 schools had black player graduation rates of 70 percent or more.

Two seasons ago, only four of the nation’s 25 top-ranked were Touchdown teams in the Gap Bowl. This year, the number doubled to eight, making it the first time in the Graduation Gap Bowl that top-ranked Touchdown teams outnumbered top-ranked Disqualified teams. Cheer, cheer not just for old Notre Dame, but for the dawn of a top 25 that scores a Touchdown even before teams take the field.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.
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