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NCAA tournament time: Study tracks players in the classroom, not the basketball court

They call it "March Madness," and every time the NCAA men's tournament rolls around, a certain kind of academic craziness is revealed.

It happened again today when The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual report, "Keeping Score When It Counts." (PDF)

The study doesn't track how well your favorite NCAA team will perform on the court but how the players on that team are performing in the classroom.

A team like Maryland scored a 10; that is, only 10 percent of the Terps' players have gained degrees in recent years.

And not one of their African-American athletes got a diploma. Arizona had the same pitiful grad rate for black players. Zero.

Minnesota's Gophers score better, but not great. But the data are a bit skewed in terms of the current coach. Tubby Smith is only in his second season, and he didn't recruit many of the players on his team.

Tubby Smith
Tubby Smith

Still, Minnesota is among the 32 percent of the teams that fall short of an NCAA threshold that could — could — result in lost scholarships if academic progress doesn't improve.

That key number, known as the "Academic Progress Rate" and calculated using a number of factors, is 925. That number roughly works out to a 60 percent graduation rate for a team.

The Gophers' Academic Progress Rate is 910.

Overall, according to TIDES director Richard Lapchick, there is progress among the 65 men's teams slated to start the tournament Wednesday; more than half of 2008's men's tourney teams had APR numbers below the 925.

The so-called APR is, according to the NCAA, "a real-time 'snapshot' of a team's academic success each semester by looking at current academic progress of every student-athlete … [including]  eligibility, retention, and graduation" as key factors.

So it combines actual grade point average, how many players leave the program and how many graduate.

Gophers athletes in all sports have a fine graduation rate; it's 72 percent, which is higher than the general student population at the Twin Cities campus.
 
 Among the basketball players, it's not nearly as good, with 38 percent of African-American players having recently graduated and  50 percent of white hoopsters earning degrees.

"One of higher education's greatest failures is the persistent gap between African-American and white basketball student-athletes, in particular, and students, in general," Lapchick said in a release.

So, as you watch all the televised games and pull your hair out over your brackets, ponder the reality: So few of these players will make it to the NBA and many won't get their degrees, either.

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