High profiles, very few diplomas

By Dr. Boyce Watkins, BASN Contributor
Updated: November 19, 2010

NEW YORK (BASN) — A new study by the College Sport Research Institute at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has revealed disturbing information about the academic hurdles of college basketball players. According to the study, the graduation rates for NCAA Division I men’s basketball players is 20 percentage points less than the average for full-time male students. The study goes on to show that the gap grows even further in top-ranking conferences. The authors present evidence that there is a 30.8 percent graduation gap when leading conferences are considered separately. Women are better off than men in the study. Female basketball players find that their graduation rates are still worse than their peers, but the gap is not as great as it is for the men. For women, there is a 6.2 percent differential overall and a 14.6 percentage point differential in top conferences. The institute bases its results on federal data for college students who started between 1999 and 2002. These are the latest data available. The study is even more shocking when one considers the prodigious nature of the problem. It would be one thing if these differentials only existed in a few conferences which served to pull down the average, but that is not the case. Instead, the report finds that for the men, every single one of the 31 conferences analyzed had a negative graduation gap. This is a glaring indictment of the NCAA, which is accused of distracting its players to the point of not allowing them to pursue their academic endeavors. As someone who has taught at several universities with big-time athletics programs, I can fully confirm that most college basketball players are too busy making money for the university to have time to study as much as the other students. I’ve even seen players have their major changed so that it doesn’t interfere with the athlete’s basketball or football schedule. One of the things that the report didn’t analyze was the impact that this system has on African American players. The bulk of the college basketball player pool tends to be African American, and black males have the lowest college graduation rate of any race/gender group in America. Given that these are the men who are one day expected to become husbands and fathers in our communities, it is critical that systems such as this one be scrutinized for the dramatic effect they have on black families. We must also consider the fact that the bulk of NCAA revenue (which rivals that of professional sports leagues) is kept out of the hands of players’ families (many of whom are in poverty) and only serve to fill the coffers of coaches and administrators, almost none of whom are black. Effectively, the NCAA is a caste system, where black people are at the bottom of the totem poll. Additionally, the study proves quite clearly that the manner by which the NCAA does business interferes with athletes finding time to actually get educated. They are earning billions on the backs of these kids and their mothers, but the athletes are the ones paying the personal and educational price. The NCAA needs independent oversight to ensure that athletes are given a chance to be educated and to experience the breadth and benefits of college life. The oversight should be provided by someone from outside the athletic department who is disconnected from the vast political influence of university sports teams. Money is power, and the suffocating presence of college basketball and football coaches have on many campuses causes far too many universities to deviate from their academic mission. Someone needs to stand up and deal with the NCAA.