Low Grad Rates of Black Basketball Players is May Madness

Pac-10 powerhouse Arizona has one of the lowest percentage of teams in the NCAA Tournament graduating African American basketball players./Photo Credit: Bryan Covarrubias/news4usonline.com

By Dennis J. Freeman

The good news about The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida’s latest report on the graduation success rate (GSR) of NCAA Tournament-bound teams is that more of them are making strides in that area.

The bad part of the recent study shows that there continues to be a widening gap between African American hoopsters and that of white basketball players.

The ugly side of the “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams” summary illustrates how highly-touted basketball programs such as Arizona, Cincinnati, Connecticut (UConn), Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Kansas State continue to be a sham when it comes to graduating their black basketball players.

It is the disparity in graduation rates between African American basketball players and their white counterparts that is troubling to the study’s lead author Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute and Chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program at UCF.

White players graduate at a 91 percent clip, opposed to the 59 percentage of African Americans basketball athletes receiving their diplomas.

If the TIDES report were a classroom test, the graduation success rates of white players would earn an A. At 59 percent, the same measured variable would land the GSR of African American players a D on the test. That kind of gap is simply unacceptable, Lapchick noted in the report’s executive summary.

“The report presents good news about the overall graduation rates, which continued to rise for both white and African-American basketball student-athletes,” said Lapchick. “However, the staggering gap between the graduation rates of African-American and white student-athletes grew by four percentage points to an even more unacceptable 32 percent.”

Fifty-one of the 67 teams (76 percent) playing in the NCAA this year graduated at least half of its basketball players, according to the TIDES survey. That’s a tad better than the 69 percent in 2010. However, when examining the TIDES report, white players make up the majority of those student-athletes who are graduating.

 For an example, Kansas State graduates 40 percent of its players, according to the report. But that statistic is largely comprised of all their white players graduating, not the reported 14 percent of African Americans walking across the stage with diplomas in their hands.  

 While Florida graduates 44 percent of its players, only a third of its African American basketball student-athletes can make that claim. Schools like Connecticut (UConn) and Arizona show a porous record of graduating their black basketball players, according to the TIDES report. UConn, which has won two men’s national basketball championships (1999 & 2004), graduate only 25 percent of its African American basketball athletes.       

 Arizona is worst with just 14 percent of its black ballers picking up degrees.   

 “For years we have noted the deeply troubling disparity between the GSR of African-American and white men’s basketball student-athletes,” said Lapchick. “While the actual graduation rates of African-American basketball student-athletes continue to increase, the gap increased to 32 percentage points!

 “An ESPN poll conducted for Martin Luther King Day this year indicated that the greatest concern of both whites and African-Americans in the general public was this disparity. Hopefully that concern will generate new resources to address this problem.”

 One way to combat this issue is to fight the racial barometers that continue to be a divisive chasm between white and African American student athletes on college campuses, said Lapchick.

 Race remains a continuing academic issue,” Lapchick said. “By itself, the increased 32 percentage point gap between graduation rates for white and African-American student-athletes demonstrates that. Presently, too many of our predominantly white campuses are not fully welcoming places for students of color, whether or not they are athletes.

 “There are lessons that our campuses could learn from athletics. We have to find new ways to narrow this gap and that includes looking at the urban high schools which many of our African-American student-athletes graduate from…answers there must come from schools systems themselves, perhaps with help from the Department of Education.”