March 17, 2010
Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, says college basketball teams that don't graduate at least 40 percent of its players should be banned from the NCAA tournament. It's probably then safe to assume that Mr. Duncan doesn't have Maryland playing Kentucky in the finals of his bracket.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released its annual report on the graduation rates of NCAA tournament basketball teams and a number of the nation's top teams were near the bottom of the list. No. 1 seed Kentucky graduated just 31 percent of its students, the sixth-lowest rate amongst the 65 teams but far ahead of Maryland, which only saw eight percent of its basketball players graduate on time. Eight! That's one player!
It wasn't all bad news though. Top programs like BYU, Duke, Marquette, Notre Dame, Villanova and Wake Forest graduated over 90 percent of players in the time period studied. Here's a quick breakdown of the findings. Note, these rates only take into account players who graduate on time:
The good (100 percent graduation rates): BYU, Marquette, Notre Dame, Utah State, Wake Forest, Wofford (average tournament seed: 8.8)
The bad (between 20 and 36 percent graduation rates): Cal, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Washington, Tennessee, Kentucky, Baylor, New Mexico State (average tournament seed: 6.8)
The ugly (8 percent graduation rate): Maryland (No. 4 seed)
Maryland coach Gary Williams told The Washington Post that such rates are insignificant:
Obviously, those years we had players leave early and they're millionaires now, and they're coming back to get their degrees, just like other guys have come back and gotten their degrees.
He has a point. If a player has success in the NBA, hasn't the college experience worked well? And why don't late graduates count in these numbers? A degree is still a degree no matter when it's attained. Still, the fact that Williams equates academic success with money is disconcerting.
Low graduation rates are nothing to be proud of, but they're no surprise. Most big-time college basketball players have long since stopped being student-athletes. For many, it's athletics first, academics second. If you're Gary Williams, that's acceptable. If you're Arne Duncan, it's not.
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