The Madness of March

NCAA Sweet 16 member Kentucky graduates only 31 percent of its players. Washington? 30 percent. Maryland? 8 percent. The idea of the "student-athlete" is a total sham

Nothing is more maddening during March Madness, the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, than to hear commentators talk about student-athletes — while knowing how few graduate from their colleges.
Thanks to Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports and the University of Central Florida, we now have a tally of how well the teams are doing in the classroom as well as on the basketball court.
Lapchcik, whose father Joe was the legendary basketball St. Johns University, issues a report each year just after the 64-team field has been selected on both the men and women’s side. He does the same thing for football prior to the bowl games. [SIGNUP]
What Lapchick’s scorecard reveals — on the men’s side — is not surprising, but it is disgraceful nonetheless and screams out for a technical foul or two on the NCAA and many of its so-called academic institutions.
Take a look at some of the graduation rates of the schools that recently moved on to the Sweet 16. Kentucky graduates 31 per cent of its players; Baylor, 36 per cent; the University of Washington, 29 percent; West Virginia, less than half, at 44 per cent; and Tennessee at less than one out of every three, 30 percent.
To get credit for graduation, it has to occur within a six-year period of matriculation, and schools are not penalized for players who graduate or leave early to enter the NBA.
While I felt sorry for the University of Maryland, which lost a heartbreaker in the second round, to Michigan State when a three-pointer cleared the net with no time left on the clock, my anguish quickly disappeared when I took a peak at Lapchick’s scorecard.
Maryland’s overall graduation rate for its basketball players is 8 percent, with none of its African American players graduating over the measured timetable. For the record, Michigan State’s graduation rate is 58 percent, with only 44 percent of its African American players graduating but all of its white players receiving a diploma. And it’s this disparity between white and black that Lapchick focuses on the most.
Fortunately, there are schools that really do have student-athletes. In the Sweet 16, Butler graduates 90 percent; Xavier, 89 and Duke, 92. And then there is Cornell. Being an Ivy League school, the Big Red does not disclose its graduation rate, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
There are other teams that made the tournament and also deserve recognition even though they got knocked out early. Brigham Young, Marquette, Utah State, Wake Forest, Wofford and Notre Dame all graduate 100 percent of its players.
On the home front, Villanova graduates 91 percent; Temple, on the other hand, deserves the raspberries with its 43 percent graduation rate.
On the women’s side, the schools fare much better. Nineteen of the 64 NCAA tournament bound schools graduated 100 percent of its athletes. This time the Temple Owls did much better with an 81 percent graduation rate.
President Obama missed a wonderful teaching moment — to paraphrase Wildcat coach Jay Wright— when he appeared on television to make his tournament selections. Like many basketball fans, he just focused on what happens on the court, not the classroom. He should have gently chided the NCAA to get tougher on its members to shoot for higher academic standards, not just three-pointers.
In fact, his Secretary of Education Arie Duncan did just that: He recently proposed that the NCAA bar any team from participating in the post season tournament if they fail to graduate 40 percent of its players, which he calls a “low bar.” That would have knocked out Kentucky and11 other teams this year.
If I were a gambling man, I wouldn’t bet my house on that happening. There’s too much money involved in college athletics.  In fact, the NCAA is discussing expanding the tournament to 96 teams. That might earn them an A in finances but it deserves an F in education.
To see Lapchick’s report go to