As you watch the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, keep in mind there’s a game behind the games that begin Tuesday night. The other game involves the graduation rates of the 68 schools in the tournament. In that competition, African-American student-athletes continue to lag behind their white counterparts. In fact, the gap is growing.
Just 59 percent of African-American players at schools competing this year in March Madness graduated from their colleges compared to 91 percent of white players. That alarming 32 percent gap is 10 percent higher than it was two years ago.
“To say that it’s troubling is an understatement,” said Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and lead author of the annual survey.
The 59 percent graduation rate for African-American players represents a three percent increase since last year. But that’s no cause for celebration. The 91 percent rate for whites represents a seven percent increase. College is supposed to prepare young people for careers and a life of achievement. Basketball is not supposed to be anyone’s primary reason to attend. But an inordinate number of African-Americans leave college early to pursue an NBA career—with only a relative handful becoming millionaires. Too many such athletes acquire neither the NBA riches nor the academic degree that could ensure success. They unwittingly allow themselves to be used by the system and then discarded.
Only five schools in this year’s tournament have higher graduation rates for black players than for white players: Pittsburgh (one of the tournament favorites), Boston University, Old Dominion, Northern Colorado and North Carolina—Asheville.
Through the efforts of Lapchick (son of Hall of Fame basketball coach Joe Lapchick) and his colleagues at UCF, an Academic Progress Rate (APR) is in place that causes colleges to lose scholarships if their graduation rate is too low. Schools that score below 925—equal to a 50 percent graduation rate—can lose up to 10 percent of their scholarships. Lapchick wants that threshold increased to 60 percent.
Clearly, African-Americans with basketball skills and their parents must make better choices when choosing a college. Look beyond the coach, the conference, or a school’s likely number of national TV appearances. Find out how many African-American players are graduating from your school of interest, and make sure you’re on the winning side in that game.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)