What? Sanity hits March Madness? The average graduation rate for black players on the 68 men’s teams in the Division 1 tournament is a record 65 percent.
To understand what a leap that is, at least in the 18 years I have been following college football grad rates and the 17 I have following basketball’s, that percentage represents a sharp rise up from 51 percent in 2008 and 35 percent in 2003.
It should be noted that 2003’s figure came before the NCAA created the Graduation Success Rate, a more generous calculation that no longer penalized schools for athletes who left early and gave them credit for transfers who graduated. But in many ways it never seemed to matter what statistics one played with. Too many programs that never sent players to the pros still exploited their players and many that sent lots of players to the pros still left the scrubs to wander in the post-eligibility wilderness without degrees.
It just could be that public pressure, embarrassment after scandals or NCAA rules that last year began banning teams with chronic poor graduation rates are finally having their effect. Schools I would have disqualified from the tournament two years ago for having black graduation rates under 50 percent that made my cut this year include: Colorado, Kansas State, Michigan, Florida and Virginia.
But before we say “Stop the presses!” it is a long way before we call off the full-court press on this issue. The top programs on the court still are disproportionately poor in the classroom. Of the 13 lowest graduation rates in the tournament for black men, 8 are ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll: Syracuse, Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio State, St. Louis, Iowa State, Connecticut and Wisconsin.
And while two-thirds of black male players overall are graduating, massive disparities still remain as white graduation rates have also shot up at record levels, to an average of 89 percent. Of the 68 teams, 39 have a white graduation rate of 100 percent, more than three times the 12 perfect teams for black players. Top credits go to Harvard, Duke, Villanova and Kansas. Those schools are at 100 percent for black and white players the second year in a row.