Opinion

Derrick Z. Jackson

Men’s NCAA Tournament teams still have miserable graduation rates

Jaylen Adams of St. Bonaventure attempted a shot under pressure from Chris Smith and Aaron Holiday of UCLA during a March 13 tournament game.
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
Jaylen Adams of St. Bonaventure attempted a shot under pressure from Chris Smith and Aaron Holiday of UCLA during a March 13 tournament game.

IN A men’s college basketball season marred by the federal investigation into bribes to assistant coaches and illegal payments to players at many perennial powers, the longest-running scandal of all continues with no end in sight: the disparate graduation rates for African-American players.

The scandal under the federal microscope is so widespread that most of the winners of the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship over the last decade have been implicated in the investigation, including North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Kentucky, and Kansas.

Some of these schools are just as bad in graduation rates, as I have found in my 22 years of charting them. The NCAA has a rough standard of a 50 percent graduation rate for teams to qualify for the postseason, a rate that generously does not penalize schools for players who go early to the pros, as long as they were in good academic standing.

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While Duke and Kansas had a 100 percent graduation rate, North Carolina miserably failed that test with a 40 percent Graduation Success Rate. Kentucky had a gap of 40 percentage points between a 60 percent rate for its black players and 100 percent for white players. Those latter two schools represent the underbelly of March Madness that must continue to be exposed. Eight of the 68 schools in the tournament had African-American player graduation rates under 50 percent, with the gutter being occupied by UCLA, at 20 percent. The other schools in UCLA’s poor company were North Carolina State, Wichita State, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego State, and Providence.

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Nearly as pernicious was the fact that 27 of the men’s teams harbor black graduation rates at least 25 percentage points lower than for white players, including Final Four participants Loyola-Chicago and Michigan. Some people might not consider it a big deal, as both of those schools graduate 67 percent of their black players. But with both programs graduating all their white players, these schools still send the message that education is not quite as important for young black men.

Meanwhile, African-American women’s basketball players excel right along with their white teammates, with 53 of the 64 schools having African-American graduation rates of at least 80 percent, including the Final Four of Connecticut, Mississippi State, Louisville, and Notre Dame. Only 25 men’s teams had black rates that high, a number that represented a drop of five schools from last year.

For UConn, the 11-time national champion, this is the fourth straight year it has had a perfect 100 percent graduation rate and the 12th straight season it has had a team graduation rate of at least 90 percent. In a 2013 speech in Worcester, UConn coach Geno Auriemma said, “We try to win every morning, every afternoon, every day, not just in the national championship game.” Nowhere is that more evident than at graduation time.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe contributing columnist. He can be reached at jackson@globe.com.