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NCAA tournament ‘bracketology’: Academically speaking, that is

As you fill out your brackets for the men’s (and women’s) NCAA basketball tournaments, consider for a moment the dirty little secret of March Madness: the graduation rates of the vaunted hoops programs you’ll be seeing on TV.

Sad to say, the Gophers women’s team — which plays its first-round game against Texas on Friday — is near the bottom on the grad rates index among the 64 women’s tournament squads.

The Gophers ranked a lowly 58th, with 67 percent of women basketball players graduating during the 1997-2000 period, which is the most recent “cohort” tracked by the NCAA. The NCAA gives an athlete six years to achieve her degree.

Central Florida diversity institute tracks grad rates
Every year, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida compiles an analysis of the NCAA tournament teams. It takes an especially hard look at the racial gap between white and African-American players.

Graduation rates for 2008 men’s teams in the NCAA Division I basketball tournament

Graduation rates for 2008 women’s teams in the NCAA Division I basketball tournament

In the case of the women Gophers, 56 percent of African-American players graduated versus 75 percent of the white players.

Fret, but just a little. If the Gophers women’s team was in the men’s tournament, their grad rate of 67 would place them in the top 20 highest academic achievers. And the graduation rate for the basketball players is about 3 percentage points higher than for all women on campus at the “U.”

And, by far, the Gophers women’s team outdoes the Gophers men’s team, which, according to the most recent NCAA data, graduated 38 percent of its players. (That compares with more than 63 percent of all men on campus who graduate in six years, according to recent University of Minnesota data.) And it is far short of the 61 percent of all Division I men’s basketball players who, according to the NCAA, graduate within six years.

The Gophers men, by the way, are in the secondary NIT tournament, which begins tonight at Williams Arena.

Speaking of which …

Kentucky, whose coach until this season was Tubby Smith — now the Gophers’ coach — posted an overall graduation rate of 23 percent; 100 percent of white players got degrees, but only 9 percent of African-American players graduated. Not good. We’ll need to watch Smith’s academic record as it unfolds here. And, as with football coach Tim Brewster, we’ll need to monitor the progress of all the junior college recruits coming to the “U” in men’s basketball and football.

JUCO players often have academic problems. Athletic director Joel Maturi told MinnPost recently he is aware of the risky nature of JUCOs; he’ll be watching academic success, too.

Among the 64 NCAA tournament men’s team, 10 teams have graduation rates at 33 percent or lower overall, and 21 teams have graduation rates among African-American players at 33 percent or lower.

In the Bracket of Shame: Arizona, Belmont and Drake, with not one black player graduating in six years during that 1997-2000 period.

Women athletes outpace their male counterparts in graduating
There is a wide gap between women NCAA tournament basketball players and their male counterparts. Perhaps, as the song goes, women are smarter, but the difference can also be attributable to the delusion that too many boys and young men carry that the NBA is a certainty and, so, a degree isn’t as important. For most women, college basketball is the last stop of their careers. Getting the degree is their goal.

Besides, in general, women graduate at a higher rate than men nationally. At the U of M, however, the differences are slight; 63.5 for men and 64.1 for women, within six years of starting school.

Richard Lapchick, the Central Florida professor and sports activist who supervises the study, said in a statement: “The ongoing and significant disparity regarding the academic success between African-American and white men’s basketball student-athletes is deeply troubling. Higher education’s greatest failure is the persistent gap between African-American and white basketball student-athletes in particular and students in general.”

One stat that stands out: 83 percent (45) of the NCAA men’s tournament teams graduated 50 percent or more of their white basketball student-athletes, but only 57 percent (36) graduated 50 percent or more of their African-American basketball student-athletes creating a 26 percent gap.

Still, sports helps African-American students. Incredible as it may seem, African-American basketball players nationwide graduate at a higher rate than African-American males who aren’t athletes. Black men get degrees at a 37 percent rate vs. 61 percent for white males.

“Too many of our predominantly white campuses are not welcoming places for students of color, whether or not they are athletes,” Lapchick said.

Lapchick picked his Academic Final Fours. For the men: Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue and Western Kentucky. I’m guessing you’ve picked none of them to get to the real Final Four.

For the women, he had to pick five: Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue, Davidson and Western Kentucky.

I’m going to cheer for those teams.

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