An education in graduation rates

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

ATLANTA – Earlier this week, in the midst of the NCAA tournament, a report came out claiming 12 of the schools in the Sweet Sixteen failed to graduate half of their recent student-athletes. Seven schools didn't even graduate a third of their players.

The story made a big splash. It was the perfect example of corrupt coaches who recruit idiots, milk their athletic ability and then wash their hands when they flunk out, right?

Columnists ripped. Editors played it big. Publicity-eager talking heads lined up to be quoted.

"When we bring kids to our campuses and fail to educate them in the numbers we're seeing here, all we're doing is using them up," Richard Lapchick, of the University of Central Florida, told the Associated Press.

Oh please.

I wonder where all of these critics were educated, because if you fall for the NCAA graduation figure scam you should ask for your money back. The formula used to calculate these graduation rates is so horribly flawed and preposterously figured that it is as relevant to the argument as today's NASDAQ closing.

But don't take my word for it.

"(The rates are) out of date," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday as he prepared for an NCAA tournament game here. "(They've) never been in date. It is a flawed system. They need to come out with a truer way of determining what the definition of a graduation rate is."

Here is how the stats are calculated. A player enters a school and has six years to graduate. If he does, the school gets credit. If he doesn't, he counts as a failure.

That's it.

So if a player is in good academic standing after three years and decides to become a NBA millionaire, he counts as a failure. If he wants more playing time and transfers to another school, he counts as a failure. If, heaven forbid, he dies, he counts as a failure.

Yet if a transfer arrives and graduates on time, his new school gets no credit. And junior college players never count as graduates.

No wonder the figures are pathetic. They aren't even counting all of the graduates. Until we get accurate data, we are just assuming that there is a problem.

There might not be.

Consider Oklahoma State. Only four of the Cowboys' 12 current scholarship players came to Stillwater directly from high school. Even if every Cowboy graduates on time, only one-third of them count.

Does this make sense?

Sure, there are programs that don't take academics as seriously as they should. And college athletics has proven itself susceptible to scandal. But I don't believe there is more to this story. In fact, there is probably less.

"We played Seton Hall last week and Andre Sweet is on that team," said Krzyzewski of the one-time Blue Devil. "Andre was at Duke as a freshman. Andre is a good kid. He was homesick and he thought being back in the New York area would be better for him. He left us. We are still friends and he is going to graduate from Seton Hall.

"But he will always be calculated as if he did not graduate."

Which means Krzyzewski's graduation rate (currently just 67 percent) will take another hit. And the critics will hoot and holler. Even though Sweet has a diploma.

The reality is most schools go out of their way to graduate players, if only because it behooves a coach to keep players eligible. So schools hire tutors and hold study sessions.

Could everyone do better? Sure. But is this an academic epidemic? Hardly.

Besides, shouldn't college be a two-way street?

Shouldn't some responsibility fall on these supposedly helpless student-athletes? Most of the players think so.

"It's got to be 50-50," said Texas junior center Jason Klotz. "We have mandatory study hall, an advisor who helps us – everything you need. Bottom line, it goes on you."

Said Illinois senior guard Jerrance Howard, "I say all the time it is kind of embarrassing, especially at the University of Illinois, to not graduate because of all the tutors, the meetings you have, the different programs they have.

"There is more than enough help."

But "students need to study harder" isn't a sexy story. Neither is "statistics flawed; coaches doing their jobs." Nobody wants to quote an "expert" on this.

So we get this annual mid-tournament publicity stunt. But we don't get a real look at the real issue based on real research.

Talk about failing to educate.

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